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TBTS Reviews: Knight and Day

July 1, 2010

Let’s get this out of the way first — I moderately recommend Knight and Day. As has been mentioned everywhere else, Cameron Diaz and Tom Cruise actually do have good chemistry and engage in some enjoyable romantic repartee. Some of the action sequences, including a somewhat old-fashioned (though admittedly technologically souped-up) car chase, were exciting. It stars, though under-uses, Peter Sarsgaard, an actor whom I like and not just because he has the best pirate name ever (Sarrrrrs-Garrrrrd…). Overall, Knight and Day is a fun, escapist little trifle of a movie that’s totally worth a matinee viewing.

But damn, does it ever benefit from just how low the “big budget, whiz-bang, event movies” bar is these days! I honestly think the biggest reason I (sort of) liked Knight and Day is that it doesn’t rely on an 80s TV show, a comic book, teen vampire melodrama books, or preceding films in a franchise to do the heavy lifting of creating characters and telling stories. I want it to be successful, though it looks like it won’t be, mostly because Knight and Day actually brought forth new characters, however flat they may have been, and created their back stories from scratch. I’m terribly excited about Inception in part for the same simple reason, though it surely has much more going for it and seems poised for greater success than Knight and Day, in both artistic and commercial terms.

I shouldn’t lose track, though, and make this piece more about a general lack of cinematic inspiration and less about the particular uninspiring but moderately enjoyable film up for discussion. So here are some further notes about Knight and Day.

I’m not sure he got all the way there, but director James Mangold made some interesting choices seemingly in an attempt to make Knight and Day a bit of a departure from, and perhaps even a send-up of, run-of-the-mill action flicks. I thought the movie’s sound design and editing were noteworthy. Basically, even when the guns was crackin,’ the bullets was whizzin,’ and things was a-splodin’ all around them, Cruise and Diaz spoke in low voices, intimately and quietly, to each other. The external world, even in chaos, seemed to be on Mute while they were interacting.

Mangold was free to make these interesting stylistic choices with the sound because he had obviously abandoned any commitment to realism in the world of the film. The best example is that Tom Cruise’s character, Roy Miller, possessed some utterly inhuman, physically impossible abilities to move and contort and control his body while moving at high rates of speed. We saw these abilities while Miller shot bad guys and avoided their deadly weapons on top of speeding cars, trains, and motorcycles, among other modes of perilous transportation (for better or worse, we did not get to see if this capacity for extra-human movement translated into the bedroom with Cameron Diaz). The point is that, from my view, these scenes leapt right over whatever boundary separates verisimilitude from parody, and it had so much fun doing it that I very quickly stopped caring about the ridiculousness of the action sequences (and started noticing things like the cool sound choices). Up until this movie, I think I was still clinging desperately to the idea that if you were going to give characters in non-comic book movies the ability to defy the physical limitations of humanity, you had to account for why those abilities exist within the narrative. Knight and Day clearly showed me that that mindset is obsolete. So be it. I’m flexible.

However, there was one part of the movie for which I just couldn’t turn my brain off and abandon a critical viewpoint. I couldn’t go along with the easy, facile way in which Roy Miller drugged Diaz’s character June Havens and claimed authority over and ownership of her body while she was incapable of resistance. Two problems stand out here.

One, this takes the “damsel in distress” trope to a whole new level and carelessly raises some issues of violating women’s bodies in the process. Yes, Miller drugged June to make it easier to get them out of dangerous situations, and yes, she returns the favor at one point. But still, a man repeatedly drugging a woman and doing what he wants with her is icky at best, even if the motivations aren’t nefarious.

Two, the drugged sequences allowed for some pretty major storytelling cop-outs. It was rather like, “Oops, how do we show Roy and June getting out of this battle with 100 guys with machine guns? Hey, let’s have Roy drug June, show the rest of the sequence from her perspective, and then have her wake up all snug in her bed the next morning! And then do it again and have her wake up on an island!!!” You ask me, that filmmaking approach is a tad lazy.

And yet, and yet…Knight and Day was OK, overall. I don’t regret spending two hours watching it. I suppose you could call that a recommendation by way of comparison with a pretty big number of movie trends that generally don’t excite me. So take this cantankerous, curmudgeonly review—from someone who has little interest in seeing most of the superhero sequels and TV show update extravaganzas—with that caveat.

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