Hancock

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Hancock
Review (8/10)
(By Erin Cullin)

John Hancock (Will Smith) is a man in the midst of an identity crisis. He does not know where he is going, and he cannot remember from where he came. He is lonely and friendless. He sleeps on sidewalk benches and drowns his sorrows in a vat of alcohol. In short, John Hancock is a disaster.

But, John Hancock is no ordinary disaster. Underneath his alcoholic exterior lurks the heart and the strength of a superhero. And, as the residents of Los Angeles have discovered, an alcoholic superhero can sometimes cause as many problems as he solves.

In the wake of his path of destruction, John Hancock has one hope - Ray Embrey (Jason Bateman), a public relations guru who believes that he can transform the wayward Hancock into a better kind of superhero. With the help of Ray and his wife, Mary (Charlize Theron), Hancock begins to discover the superhero within, but in doing so uncovers a few uncomfortable truths about the people around him.

It should be no surprise to anyone that Will Smith, the “superhero” of the modern day box office, is once again holding court in theaters during the American Independence Day holiday weekend. It is a spot that he has dominated since 1996 (with a little movie appropriately titled, “Independence Day”), and there appear to be no signs that it is a spot that he will be vacating any time in the near future. Much like the superhero that he plays onscreen, Will Smith is an unstoppable force (minus the alcohol).

Unlike many of his other Independence Day releases, “Hancock” is actually a departure for Will Smith. It is an original story about a flawed hero who is forced into introspection by the circumstances which he has created. “Introspection”, however, does not translate into tedious boredom. While it offers a interesting character study, “Hancock” also provides enough action and witty humor to satisfy Smith’s traditional fanbase.

Hancock” is the fourth feature film by Peter Berg (“The Kingdom”), an actor who is quickly making a successful transition to the chair behind the camera. Unlike “The Kingdom”, which jumped across the screen at a nauseating speed, “Hancock” is more contemplative and deliberate (and, by extension, easier to watch). The film editing and CGI effects are, for the most part, well-incorporated and credible. While it will be a shame to lose Berg’s talents in front of the camera, I suspect that he is quickly becoming a permanent fixture in the director’s chair.

What elevates this film from the realm of the ordinary, however, is its acting. Having conquered the “popcorn flick” genre, Will Smith is increasingly accepting more challenging roles that demonstrate his range as an actor. From “Ali” to “The Pursuit of Happyness”, Smith has laid to rest any suspicions that he is a lightweight actor. While “Hancock” is not necessarily in the same league as his prior Oscar-nominated performances, it does offer more substance than a typical action film.

Jason Bateman also delivers yet another wry supporting performance. While I question his ability to carry a film, his quick wit and persuasive performances are quickly elevating him to the status of supporting actor heavyweights such as Chris Cooper and John C. Reilly.

The film’s most surprising performance, though, would have to be that of Charlize Theron. Drama is usually her forte, and I have found that her attempts to dabble in action films have typically been ill-advised. “Hancock” is a notable exception and, while it will not earn her a return to Oscar’s red carpet, her performance in this film is credible and heartfelt. She was a surprisingly good choice.

Hancock” is not the best film that I have seen this year, nor is it the best film on Will Smith’s growing resume. It is, however, a well-made, refreshing twist on the superhero genre that is worth the price of admission. At minimum, it is a worthwhile distraction for those who are waiting with bated breath for another superhero - The Dark Knight - to descend into theaters on July 18th.
 

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