Saturday 31 May 2014

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

Following the recent craze of adapting archaic short stories, The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty follows our eponymous hero as all his daydreams become a reality in a laidback film directed by Ben Stiller. Stiller is no stranger to starring in films that he directs, Zoolander and Tropic Thunder to name a couple, but this time it seems that the strenuous task may have demanded too much from him.

What does differ between previous movies he has acted in and directed is that he did not pen the script. Stephen Conrad (Pursuit Of Happyness) was instead brought in to adapt the 1939 short story, and adapts it well. Certainly not a direct adaptation, but a film based on the same idea of the original that goes off on a different tangent, driven by Walter Mitty’s love life. In the short story, Walter is married but in the film the driving force comes from Walter Mitty’s quest for the love of Cherly Melhoff, whimsically played by Kristin Wiig (Bridesmaids). But the stumbling block for Walter in his quest for love is his own lack of self-confidence. In his dreams he is brave, valiant and heroic, but in real life he is shy, bullied and quiet. So to rectify this, he sets out on a quest to find the elusive photojournalist Sean O’Connell (Sean Penn). On his travels Walter battles sharks, evades volcanoes and gives his life new meaning.

While this sounds inspiring and thrilling, and for the most part it is, it all comes to a bit of an anti-climax. Not to say the ending wasn’t a good one, it just lacked a final message to leave us all desiring what we’ve just seen. It lacks that Sunshine moment, that Into The Wild moment that just makes you appreciate life and want to experience everything it has to offer. While this doesn’t take anything away from the glorious moments throughout the film, it leaves us feeling a bit empty, a bit let down.

When we are inspired however, we are inspired into awe. The settings were brilliantly chosen. Iceland was the main location for Walter’s journey, and what a location. The rolling hills, the long, winding roads and the quaint little towns were all lovely and brought peacefulness to otherwise exciting, action-packed scenes. It was in these moments that Stiller shines directorially. You can tell that every shot is carefully considered. During the longboard scene we see just about every type of shot, and every single one achieves its purpose. The close up of Stiller’s face as he flies around corners, the crane shots as the tiny figure is antlike in front of the green hills behind him and the tracking shots as he coasts to a stop, all of them form my favourite scene in this film.

It’s a shame that Stiller was unable to act to the same quality of his direction. Whilst his directing was full of precision, his acting was lacklustre and hollow. It’s when Walter is being bullied at his workplace that he shines brightest, as it allowed Stiller to withdraw into himself. I find that Stiller is at his best when he is playing an introverted character, but this film required someone who could flourish as an extrovert too. The character of Walter Mitty needed to be strong yet vulnerable, but unfortunately he could only achieve the latter. I can’t help but wonder how much better this film would be if someone like Fassbender or Gordon-Levitt was cast.

The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty is by no means a bad film, in fact it’s a good film, but in terms of realising its potential, it sometimes doesn’t strive enough for it. It’s a beautiful film that would achieve more as an advert for Iceland than it would as an inspirational film. Hopefully Stiller realises that he is more suited to directing than acting.

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty gets a 3/5.


Jonny Naylor

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty at CeX

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