music friday: bruce springsteen, "sherry darling", the river
throw me back to 2005

by request: survivor (james mcteigue, 2015)

We watch movies for a variety of reasons. My wife enjoys a classic as much as the next person, but she is also a knitter, and it often works well for her to have a standard TV show or movie running while she knits. She doesn’t always look up at the screen, so dialogue-heavy things are useful, and a sense of familiarity also helps, since she might not be giving her full attention.

And so we browsed through Netflix and decided to watch Survivor. It was only a day ago, and I’ve already forgotten why. Maybe it was the brief descriptive text: “He’s the world’s deadliest assassin and his next target ... is her. The cat-and-mouse game is on. The object: survival.” Maybe it was the cast: Milla Jovovich and Pierce Brosnan were the stars, both usually reliable, and the supporting actors included Dylan McDermott, Robert Forster, Roger Rees in his last movie, James D’Arcy, and Angela Bassett. Since I wasn’t knitting, my expectations were pretty low ... the very things that make it a good movie for a knitter might be negative for someone actually paying attention. But it’s nice to watch a movie together, and Outlander wouldn’t be on for a few hours.

All of the above should be kept in mind, because if I was grading this on the “Knitting Scale”, I might be kinder. But Survivor is formulaic, dumb, and uninteresting in general, which didn’t quite work for me. You can see some problems in advance. The cast was fairly impressive, a B+ group. I don’t know how much they got paid, but Jovovich, star of the Resident Evil franchise, surely makes more than chump change, and while he’s not getting paid 007 money here, Brosnan was paid around $40 million for his James Bond movies. (On the other hand, Angela Bassett was “only” paid $250k for her Oscar-nominated turn in What’s Love Got to Do With It.) Basically I’m inventing figures out of thin air, but the amount of money spent on the cast for Survivor was surely more than what the actors in Sharknado were paid. Well, the budget for Survivor was $20 million, which is a lot of money, but not so much for an international thriller with some big names in the cast.

My point is that even if they spent all $20 million on non-cast items, Survivor wasn’t exactly The Bourne Identity in the budget department.

Which shouldn’t matter. I watch movies all the time with budgets far lower than $20 million that are fine films. McTeigue has made a few interesting, relatively inexpensive movies in the past, such as his debut, V for Vendetta. (He also directed a couple of episodes of Sense8.)

But for a movie like this to work, everything needs to be tight, the suspense needs to drive the film, you should feel that everyone behind the production was fully invested in what we see on the screen. And that’s just not true. Oh, the actors don’t mail it in ... Jovovich is always good when she’s running around, and Brosnan has some fun playing a bad guy. But there is nothing to make anyone care about the characters, and the action does indeed look like most of the budget went to the stars ... it is a cheap-looking movie, on the level of a TV show. And there are no quirks that show some inventiveness from the film makers. Survivor is by-the-numbers, and the numbers aren’t that interesting, anyway.

If you are a knitter looking for something to take up 96 minutes of your time while you work, by all means, check out Survivor. For the rest of us, 4/10.

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