Salisbury Press

Saturday, June 6, 2020

Brad Pitt versus the zombies

Wednesday, July 3, 2013 by PAUL WILLISTEIN in Focus

The Zombie Apocalypse is upon us and it's called "World War Z."

That's "Z" as in zombie.

And the only person standing between us and the end of the world as we know it is Brad Pitt, who portrays a former United Nations official called back into service and tasked to find the antidote to a zombie pandemic.

"World War Z" is not as funny as "Zombieland," the 2009 zombie horror film spoof starring Woody Harrelson, Jessie Eisenberg and Emma Stone as zombie-battling Americans, nor as frightening as "28 Days Later," the 2002 Danny Boyle directed film about a zombie virus in the United Kingdom.

"World War Z" is also not, thankfully, as graphic or bloody as the aforementioned zombie movies, nor many in the zombie genre. Of course, one must buy into the concept that there are zombies, as do the government and military officials in "World War Z."

Then again, "World War Z" is less a zombie film and more of an apocalypse, or end-of-the-world, movie, recalling "War of the Worlds" (2005), directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Tom Cruise.

Marc Forster ("Quantum of Solace," "The Kite Runner," "Stranger Than Fiction," "Finding Neverland," "Monster's Ball") directs "World War Z" with an appropriate sense of panic. After all, these are fast-moving zombies, not the laggards of yore.

The screenplay is by Matthew Michael Carnahan ("State Of Play," "Lions for Lambs," "The Kingdom"), Drew Goddard ("The Cabin in the Woods," "Cloverfield," TV's "Lost") and Damon Lindelof ("Star Trek Into Darkness," "Prometheus," "Cowboys & Aliens" and TV's "Lost").

The screen story is by Carnahan and J. Michael Straczynski ("Thor," "Changeling") based on the book, "An Oral History of the Zombie War" (2006), follow-up to the satiric "The Zombie Survival Guide: Complete Protection from the Living Dead" (2003) by Max Brooks, a son of Mel Brooks and Anne Bancroft.

As with many contemporary big-budget mainstream movies, lots of independent film techniques (hand-held cameras, extreme close ups, under or overly lit scenes) are used to heighten the realism in "World War Z."

The first 20 minutes of "World War Z," in which the zombie pandemic is unleashed upon an unsuspecting public, is bristling and about as tension-filled as you will find in any movie of this summer season thus far.

A sense of dread is created, augmented by the terror facing Jerry Lane (Brad Pitt), the former U.N. official, and his wife, Karin (Mireille Enos) and their two daughters, who first confront the conflagration during a traffic jam in Philadelphia. The Schuylkill Expressway has never seen anything like this.

Jerry's quest to find the origin of the zombie pandemic, and possibly its antidote takes him to South Korea, Israel and, finally, to a World Health Organization research center in Wales.

That's where Jerry gets down to business, and also where the screenplay bogs down. Fortunately, the storyline picks up again and "World War Z" becomes the feel-good zombie movie of the summer.

"World War Z" provides Pitt ("Moneyball," "Inglourious Basterds" "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button") with one of his most varied roles. He moves easily from concerned father to action hero.

One wonders if the globe-trotting Pitt, one of the film's producers through his Plan B production company, may have been attracted to the subject matter because of the film's positive portrayal of the United Nations and World Health Organization.

Casting of the secondary characters seems to be an intentional downplaying of those surrounding Pitt. There aren't your typical go-to male and female actors, which is good in many ways.

Therefore, the United Nations Undersecretary is played by Fana Mokoena ("Safe House," "Hotel Rwanda"), who acquits himself well.

Similarly, Mireille Enos (TV's "Big Love") as Jerry's wife, Karin, is not readily recognizable, yet is quite believable. Daniella Kertesz makes a strong impression as a soldier who aids Jerry.

Zombie films have a cinematic tradition going back to George A. Romero's 1968 genre-setting "Night of the Living Dead." It's uncertain what their function is in the pop culture zeitgeist. Suffice it to say that "World War Z" is in the tradition of a good old-fashioned scary summer movie.

"World War Z," MPAA Rated PG-13 (Parents Strongly Cautioned. Some Material May Be Inappropriate For Children Under 13) for intense frightening zombie sequences, violence and disturbing images; Genre: Action, Drama, Horror, Sci-Fi, Thriller; Run time: 1 hr., 44 min.; Distributed by Paramount Pictures.

Credit Readers Anonymous: "World War Z" was filmed in England, Scotland, Hungary and Malta, with aerial shots of Philadelphia.

Box Office, June 28: Because of the July 4 holiday deadline for the Focus section, box offices results were not available.

Unreel, July 5:

"The Lone Ranger," PG-13: Gore Verbinski directs the oft-told western legend of John Reid, aka The Long Ranger (Armie Hammer), from the point of view of Native-Amercan Tonto (Johnny Depp). Helena Bonham Carter and Tom Wilkinson co-star.

"Despicable Me 2," PG: The minions are back as Gru is recruited by the Anti-Villain League to deal with a new super ciriminal. Steve Carell, Kristen Wiig, Miranda Cosgrove, Russell Brand and Ken Jeong are among the voice talents in the feature animation family comedy.

"The Way, Way Back," PG-13: A teenager experiences a rite of passage during a summer job at an amusement park in the comedy drama that stars Steve Carell, Amanda Peet, Maya Rudolph, Toni Collette, Allison Janney and AnnaSophia Robb.

Read Paul Willistein's movie reviews at the Lehigh Valley Press web site, lehighvalleypress. com; the Times-News web site,; and hear them on "Lehigh Valley Art Salon," 6 - 6:30 p.m. Mondays, WDIY 88.1 FM, Email Paul Willistein pwillistein@