I’m going to ask a really honest and sincere question: Why do genuinely talented actors who surely have many, many options for high-paying work — performers like, say, Daniel Craig — agree to star in Edward Zwick films? Looking at the trailer for Defiance, it appears that Zwick has made basically the same movie that he’s been making for at least a decade now, in which a proud ethnic minority stands up for their rights against a brutal cultural oppressor… under, of course, the convenient leadership of an attractive, male, A-list white movie star.
Like Zwick’s previous films, Defiance is guaranteed to contain most or all of the following elements: a swelling, thundering orchestral score that telegraphs emotions from half way across the equator (which maybe makes sense since that’s the distance he always expects between his audience and his subject matter); gorgeous, resort-like photography of some exotic foreign location; grand, melodramatic battle scenes without a hint of passion or excitement to them; a character who overcomes his personal pettiness and finds salvation in sacrificial fighting for the oppressed people selected for the film (this character is likely to die); a half dozen incredibly generic, clunky exchanges of dialog meant to sound deeply meaningful.
Katsumoto: You believe a man can change his destiny?
Algren: I think a man does what he can, until his destiny is revealed.
Oh! How thought provoking! It’s all so clear to me now.)
I’d hesitate to even call his movies pretentious. It’s like Zwick looked up pretentious in the dictionary once and then went home and made a shoddy imitation of pretentiousness.
Sure, it’s all clearly marked as Oscar-bait, but even amongst your average slate of desperate-for-awards Academy Epics, Zwick films are trash. If The Godfather is a five-star luxury meal, and your typical Oscar wannabe film is a sit down lunch at two-star chain, Zwick’s movies are microwave TV dinners. They look okay on the packaging, maybe, but once you peel off the cellophane, you’ll find an unappealing mess of preprocessed crap.
And yet: There’s James Bond, hamming it up with the one-step-above-John-Malkovitch-in-Rounders-Russian accent. Didn’t Craig bother to actually watch Blood Diamond? Or, fercryinoutloud, The Last Samurai? It shouldn’t have to be a rule that Tom Cruise should never, ever play a ninja, but well, there you go.