If critics were cars, Denby would be a Ford Taurus. His writing is clear and logical, and almost as exciting as a tan-colored, four-door sedan. He not only lacks the flamboyance and savage wit of Anthony Lane, the top gun film critic at the New Yorker, he seems almost wholly devoid of personality whatsoever. Denby, at heart, is a dry academic lulling his readers to sleep with his texture-free analyses.
However, once in a while, he fires one hell of a shot across the bow of the film critics community. Imagine hopping into grandpa’s Taurus, and finding out at the first stoplight that he’s got a 230 horsepower V-8Â engine in there that can take a Corvette off the line. There’s the shock of “holy shit, where did this come from?” Months ago, he illuminated the teen-dance flick How She Move with eloquent prose and made you look at a generic teen movie as an intriguing cultural artifact. This week, he tackles Hancock.
Fanboys have been circulating negative reviews of Hancock for months. The Rottentomatoes.com rating is at 36% and falling. (Notably, though, J.R. Jones at the Chicago Reader also gives it a thumbs-up, and the Reader has long been a high-water mark of film criticism.)
Denby digs in to Hancock, essentially calling it the next evolution in pop entertainment:
If everyone knows that digital has tossed realism overboard, then why not turn that knowingness into a joke? Hancock flips an obnoxious neighborhood kid into the sky and, looking up now and then, carries on a conversation with Ray, only to put out an arm and catch the howling towhead as he falls to earth. Thatâ€™s a pretty funny trick, and there are others just as good…
He follows that thought with some eloquent observations about Will Smith and Charlize Theron.
Weâ€™re also puzzled by [director] Bergâ€™s visual style, which, in these intimate scenes, depends on a handheld camera, restlessly moving yet pinned to the actors in super-tight closeups. Itâ€™s as if he were making a Cassavetes psychodrama….Suddenly, we realize why he stays so close. We are watching genuine actors at work, not well-paid hired hands filling up the space between agitated zeroes and ones.
I haven’t seen Hancock yet, so I can’t hold forth on his accuracy, but kudos to Grandpa Dave for breaking from the pack, and giving us a fresh way to contemplate a film that you might otherwise completely ignore. Right or wrong, that’s what good film writing is all about.