Archive for the ‘Thomas Haden Church’ Category

We Bought A Zoo!

18 Jan

We Bought A Zoo — directed by Cameron Crowe. Family Drama. A widowered adventure writer takes his kids and his inheritance and buys a small zoo on its uppers. 124 minutes Color 2011.

* * * *

As soon as Thomas Haden Church appears on the screen we know we are in for a forgone conclusion: it’s going to be a dogmatically sentimental tale plotted-up so’s everything ends hunky-dory at the credits. Mr. Church is wonderfully amusing as the character of the narrow-minded older brother trying to convince his younger brother not to jump into the swamp of zoo-purchase. The problems lie not with the actor but the role. It is the role of a false antagonist, unneeded because we have a real antagonist in the person of the stickler zoo inspector played with equal comic skill by John Michael Higgins. Up until the older brother, we are sailing along quite nicely in the company of Matt Damon and his two children, a darling little girl played by Maggie Jones who never missteps into the poo of child actorishness, and by Colin Ford, playing the 14 year-old sullen son. For as soon as Church does appear his performance is our gain and the story’s loss, for we instantly know the film is going to be devoured whole by massive plot contrivances. The conflict in this film is really simple, and does not need either a contrivance or a plotty plot: it is whether Matt Damon can kill an old suffering tiger. In favor of its putting-down is Scarlett Johansson. She is a plain girl, and it is good to see her out of the sequins of her seductivity and instead where she truly belongs, in rude jeans and scraggly hair. She plays an experienced and devoted zoo professional, and is perfectly convincing in the role. But we are eventually given her hair set more glamorously in order, one supposes, to validate an attraction between her and Damon, an attraction which is completely disconsonnant with all we are told about his devotion to his recently dead wife. Along with this we are bombarded with a standard conflict between the father and son, a romance with the son and a local 12 year-old, the zoo inspection impending then occurring, running out of money, inclement weather on opening day, and even the misadventure of a fallen tree keeping customers out, and the older brother. What is lost by all of this?  What’s lost is Matt Damon’s performance. All this pulls the rug out from under it by doing all the work for him – whereas, good actor that he is, he might have compassed it all which we would have been glad to see him do. But Cameron Crowe does not seem to have the common sense to keep things simple. Moreover, we are wrung dry by the score which crowds us out more and more as the film goes on. Crowe doesn’t allow us to participate; he rams it down our throats instead of letting us swallow it on our own. He doesn’t allow us to do our job; he doesn’t trust his audience. Fortunately, his actors trust themselves and it is them that we bide our time with, with a certain satisfaction, even though none of them are given close relations with the animals themselves, save with the tiger, whose demise, the only real dramatic action natural to the material, we are, unfortunately, spared. There are a couple of good arguments and a couple of cunning one-liners, true. But I am not a robot. And I do not need controlling.


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