Recently Rated Movies: The Bridges of Tortured Accents

Seventh Son (2014)
Dir.: Sergei Bodrov
TC4P: 4/9


Up until a very few years ago, I was pretty much down for any fantasy film that came my way. The cast didn't matter, the special effects didn't matter, the fact that a film perhaps had a budget that was far too low for what it was trying to accomplish could only endear it to me more... and story? Who cares if it didn't make a lick of sense in the real world. All I needed was a dragon, assorted monsters, a wizard or a witch or two, some swashbuckling action, and some damsels in distress. And if the damsels in distress turned out to be the ones doing the swashbuckling, even better. (Sorry, guys... based on aesthetics alone, tough women are infinitely more interesting to watch than sweaty, nasty men.) 

Then digital happened. Then CGI happened. The ability to expand the size of battles and monster fights and all manner of wizardry happened. Films starting looking more and more gray-bluish and turd-brownish the more CGI was used. This didn't effect just fantasy films, but also science-fiction, historical epics, and war films. Every film, despite the disparate story elements and genres, all started looking the same to me, to the point where going to see a simple, two-person drama with bare bones camerawork (which once was anathema to me) seemed to be a reasonable antidote. And with the sameness, and of course, the success of giant franchises that ensured that knockoffs would hit us left and right, came the curse of too many films. We became inundated with movie after movie that all looked like the exact movie we saw the week before, in the same way that I right now can't tell the film version of The Giver from The Maze Runner from Divergent from The Hunger Games.

When I first saw the trailer for Seventh Son in a theatre, I was understandably confused. I had been for many years a fan of Orson Scott Card (and people, it is OK to still enjoy a person's writing even if you don't agree with his personal/political stance on some things). Apart from the Ender's Game series, I really loved The Tales of Alvin Maker series (though admittedly, I have not read the most recent two books in the currently six-book line). But here was the trailer for a film named Seventh Son, which is the title of the very first book in the Alvin Maker series, and yes, here onscreen is, like that book, a young apprentice who is the seventh son of a seventh son. But then dragons and witches and monsters show up in the trailer, and in my head, I start thinking that Hollywood has really screwed up this time. That's not the book I remember. Isn't it supposed to be in an alternate timeline of America? Where are the Native Americans? I scanned the very quick credits card that flashed at the end of the trailer and saw no sign of Card's name, and realized it was a totally different property. And since the trailer didn't look that interesting, there would be no need for me to see it until video.

And see it on video, I have. Years ago, I would have loved Seventh Son. It has Julianne Moore as a truly evil witch with little remorse, and that is OK with me, because I will watch her in anything. The film has a multitude of dragons and monsters, and that too is still OK with me, because I am at heart purely a monster guy. The monster effects here run hot and cold with me; every time that I was wowed by a particular effect, the next one would be a letdown. But there is one huge lizard-monster that slathers and slobbers effectively, so that sat well with me. Seventh Son also has Olivia Williams, and she kind of falls into the same camp as Moore for me, but she is sorely underused (as she often is). The film tries to go far too big given how thin its story is, which I guess would be to allow for more action from its male lead, Jeff Bridges, as an aging knight -- actually a "spook" in the parlance of this film -- who battles witches for a living but who long ago was involved in a tragically romantic way with Moore's sorceress. And this is where I really ran into trouble with Seventh Son.

Since I first saw Bridges in Thunderbolt and Lightfoot in the 1970s, ol' Jeff has been one of my consistently favorite actors. For a long time, I felt he was highly underrated and misused in Hollywood; suddenly, after over 30 years in the biz, the massive cult success of The Big Lebowski solidified him in the minds of the public forever, and then his Oscar win for Crazy Heart (after four previous nominations) just added to his legend. Since then, apart from True Grit (which was a smart choice and earned another Oscar nod), I feel he has gotten sloppy in the usual way of actors who have finally won an Oscar and then don't seem to try as hard. (R.I.P.D. anyone?) Then again, Jeff always did have a strange way of picking projects throughout his career.

And here in Seventh Son, taking on an action-heavy role, it seems that Bridges may have gotten too far out of his element. Thrust into a fairy-tale setting without a definite period -- I suppose we could define it mockingly as "medieval timeless" -- it is still noticeably European in look and feel, with most of the characters speaking with British accents. Not known for his Shakespeare, Bridges makes an odd attempt at his own style of accent, that doesn't seek to replicate the inflection of a certain people as much as he instead growl-shouts most of his lines in the hopes of landing somewhere near an accent that seems to fit in with the rest of the cast. And he is wildly inconsistent with it. 

Despite this, the more tender moments in the script (though there are few of them) are his better ones, where the growl-shout is turned down to a mere growl-mumble -- which could be Rooster Cogburn in armor for all we care -- and he is allowed to communicate more through close-ups with his considerable gift at charismatic expression. Overall though, it is a performance that I wouldn't be surprised gained a Razzie nomination this year (it came out theatrically in February 2015), and as much as it pains me, I would have to agree with the selection if they did. I can often admire actors who try things they never would normally try, but it seems that Ol' Jeff bit off more than he could chew here. (Strangely, he actually underplays in many instances, so the scenery is at least safe.)

There is considerable talent behind the camera: director Sergei Bodrov (Mongol), three-time Oscar winning production designer Dante Ferretti, composer Marco Beltrami, and co-writer Steven Knight (Dirty Pretty Things), and apart from Ferretti's work, it is all for naught. Especially galling is Beltrami's score, which is just far too over-the-top at every second of the film, and you wished for a defter touch in every scene. Combined with that wash of overall mediocre special effects work, and Seventh Son makes you wonder if is actually the work of a bunch of fourth sons of third son-of-a-bitches.

RTJ

Comments

It's amazing how similar our overall opinions of this film are, while our opinions regarding Mr. Bridges are such polar opposites. I will say, in defense of my defense of Jeff, that this is at least more of an interesting performance than R.I.P.D.

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