Ender’s Game

November 10, 2013 at 8:03 pm | Posted in 2013 | Leave a comment
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◊ ◊ ½

I have chosen to set aside the controversy of author Orson Scott Card’s close to hysterical homophobic ranting and whether it might represent, particularly in light of certain aspects of his novel, a deep need to compensate for something.  That discussion would eclipse this entire review.  As for the film itself, sadly it suffered from exactly the sort of short comings I was afraid of.  The book is a compelling story of a young boy (6 years old when the book starts) who is taken off to a military training facility where the commander very deliberately, over many years, goes about turning the kid into a killing machine with no regard for his well-being; it’s sort of a “Lord of the Flies” meets “Harry Potter.”  It’s chilling in parts and raises provocative questions about when the ends justify the means.  However, there is scarcely time for all of that complexity in two hours.  So, what we get is a muddled affair that dips briefly into components of the book (training sequences, peer conflicts, battles and the aforementioned psychological manipulations) without spending any satisfying time in any of them.  Also, the darkest elements of the book were toned down, such that the brutality ended up looking like little more than run-of-the-mill high school bullying. All of this might have been more frustrating had I found the acting more compelling but these young kids were not much up to what was expected of them.  Only Moises Arias (who drew rave reviews for “The Kings of Summer” earlier this year) seemed to be having any fun.  Arias, as Ender’s chief antagonist Bonzo, played his school yard villain with great relish.  Asa Butterfield (“Hugo”) was unable to bring any passion and complexity to Ender.  He did fine at looking distressed but I never quite bought him as cunning and his rage amounted to simply shouting his lines at Harrison Ford.  Even clearly talented actors, like Ford, Ben Kingsley, Viola Davis, Hailee Steinfeld and Abigail Breslin seemed uninterested in their parts.  What this film does have is some consistently beautiful effects.  The scenes in the weightless training room are particularly compelling; it’s too bad they’re too few of them.  Throughout the film, I could not help but think that HBO or Showtime or AMC could have done it better.  As a multi-part series with the acting caliber and risk taking we now see on television, this story might have actually been impressive.  More than anything, what this film needed was a good dose of Vince Gilligan.

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