When I saw the trailer for Hancock a couple of weeks ago I thought to myself, “This is just another super hero, star vehicle of a movie.” Even though the trailer clearly delivered on communicating the “twist,” that Hancock was kind of a jerk, reluctant to help, and needed to work on his rescue technique, I was not convinced I should put it on my list. My oldest son was heading back east for a couple of weeks, so I thought we could go out to a movie together on his last night. He chose Hancock. I was very glad he did. I thoroughly enjoyed this 92 minutes.
Will Smith plays Hancock, a human with super human powers, who could use a week or two at charm farm. He’s usually drunk, smelly, a bad dresser and downright nasty. Most of his time is spent asleep, but occasionally he flies around foiling crime, however, he does so without precision. In the opening scene Hancock is out to stop three guys in a white SUV shooting randomly at cars, while on a stretch of the L.A. freeway. In the process he demolishes sections of buildings, freeway signs, countless cars and the freeway itself, finishing off his chore by impaling the vehicle on the spire of the Capitol Records building.
The city is up in arms. Although they like his powers, and the idea of a super hero, they are worn out having to clean up after him. Warrants are out for his arrest, and everyone seems to want him to just go away. The L.A. mayor encourages him to move to NYC.
Will Smith delivers another fine performance. He is funny of course, but his physical athletics make us believe he is a human with super powers. It doesn’t look fake. As he did so well in I Am Legend, Mr. Smith gives us some deeply moving, quiet moments as he wrestles with his thoughts and tries to sort out his past. Mr. Smith is so very strong when the character motivation is personal. Hancock is as personal a role as you can get.
He saves Ray Embrey (played with perfect pitch by Jason Bateman), from being crushed by a train. Hancock tosses Ray’s car up into the air and stops the train with an outstretched arm, causing a derailment; yet another mess for the city. In this turning point scene, the crowd surrounds Hancock amid the debris and takes him to task. “Why didn’t you raise the car and let the train pass? That would have been the best way.” Hancock can’t believe what he’s hearing. Little old ladies and fat men giving him tips on technique. Ray enters and takes over to defuse the crowd, thanking Hancock for saving his life and asks to be flown home.
The story could have easily gone the Hollywood expected route, but writers Vincent Ngo and Vince Gilligan, took us down a very different path. Ray is an aspiring public relations guy and has been going from company to company pitching his “all heart” cause. Firms would give away their products, like TB drugs, to those who need it most, in exchange for the bump their brands would get being part of the greater good. No one’s biting.
The train incident has given Ray a fresh idea. A public relations makeover for Hancock. After much convincing, there is an agreement and some hilarious scenes of Hancock in prison, working off his time. The thought was, once crime rose, the city officials would free him to fly once again.
Ray is married to Mary (Charlize Theron), presumably a stay at home mom raising Aaron, Ray’s son from a previous marriage. Ms. Theron is out of her ugly prosthetic masks of past films and back looking absolutely stunning in the warm glow of the southern California sun. Ms. Theron has earned the respect of the acting world and applies it with just the right touch here. From the outset Mary seems mis-placed in this middle class suburban cul-de-sac, and we wonder why she is married to Ray. Her secret is soon revealed, and it’s delicious. I won’t divulge it here (total spoiler), but it makes the film, propelling the story on a completely new arc.
It’s as if there are two films going on here, and director Peter Berg weaves them together with comic relief as well as dramatic substance. Highly recommended for fans of action films looking for something more to think about. This one should do well at the box office. Visit the official Hancock site here. It is not as easy to navigate as most, but still some cool stuff.