Jane Austen with a zesty zom­bie twist

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Film Reviews -

W(MA15+) e will never know for sure but chances are Jane Austen would have ap­proved of Pride and Prej­u­dice and Zom­bies. The un­dead, af­ter all, are not in­ter­ested in peo­ple’s good looks or great for­tunes but in their brains, and women’s grey mat­ter is ev­ery bit as val­ued as men’s. “It is a truth uni­ver­sally ac­knowl­edged,’’ we are told at the out­set, “that a zom­bie in pos­ses­sion of brains must be in want of more brains.”

How much of your own brain you need to en­gage to take in this adap­ta­tion of Seth Gra­hame-Smith’s pop­u­lar mashup novel is up to you. The par­ody of Austen’s 1813 clas­sic is there to grin at, as that open­ing line sug­gests, but per­son­ally I soon stopped try­ing to line up the jokes and just sat back and en­joyed the zom­bie ac­tion.

That starts in rous­ing fash­ion when Mr Darcy (Sam Ri­ley) vis­its a coun­try house where he sus­pects a zom­bie is lurk­ing. He sets free car­rion flies from a bot­tle he car­ries at all times. “It is not the buzzing that should con­cern you,’’ he soberly tells his host­ess, “but when the buzzing stops.’’ It stops when the flies alight on the still nor­mal-look­ing zom­bie-in-res­i­dence, whom Darcy ter­mi­nates with ex­treme prej­u­dice.

We learn that Eng­land has been fight­ing a zom­bie war for 100 years. Lon­don is a crowded walled city; the rich, such as Darcy, live in for­ti­fied pas­toral es­tates; the un­dead are ev­ery­where else and seem to be gain­ing the up­per hand.

In a neat twist on the snob­beries of 19th-cen­tury Eng­land, it is where you did your zom­biekilling mar­tial arts train­ing that de­marks the wealth­ier classes. El­iz­a­beth Ben­net (Lily James of Down­town Abbey) and her four sis­ters trained in China, in line with the fam­ily’s mod­est means. There’s a sparky scene where she one­ups the blag­gard Mr Wick­ham (Jack Huston) over the read­ing of Sun Tzu’s The Art of War.

The Pride and Prej­u­dice story also plays out. El­iz­a­beth and Darcy like each other, but his pride is a prob­lem. The beau­ti­ful Jane Ben­net (Aus­tralia’s Bella Heathcote) has the at­ten­tion of the hand­some and su­per-rich Mr Bin­g­ley (Dou­glas Booth). Charles Dance, the go-to ac­tor for bluff pa­tri­archs, is per­fect as Mr Ben­net. Matt Smith, the 11th Doc­tor Who, pro­vides light re­lief as the unc­tu­ous cler­gy­man Mr Collins. And icy Lena Headey, Dance’s daugh­ter in Game of Thrones, is the haughty Lady Cather­ine de Bourg, who here is an eye patch-wear­ing zom­bie slayer. “Func­tion,’’ she replies when asked if the patch is a fash­ion choice.

As the zom­bie apoc­a­lypse threat­ens there’s a lot of blood and guts (and brains) but it’s noth­ing you won’t see on an episode of The Walk­ing Dead. In­deed Amer­i­can di­rec­tor Burr Steers ( Igby Goes Down) doesn’t let the vi­o­lence linger, per­haps with an eye to his home mar­ket, where the film scored a PG-13 rat­ing. The Aus­tralian MA15+ rat­ing is for “strong comedic vi­o­lence’’.

The best scenes are vis­ual but qui­eter: the Ben­net girls sit­ting in the par­lour, sharp­en­ing their knives and clean­ing their guns; El­iz­a­beth and Darcy in a mar­tial arts tango af­ter she re­jects his first mar­riage pro­posal.

The at­trac­tive cast, light­hearted spoof of a much-filmed novel and zom­bie-mash­ing ac­tion make this an easy en­ter­tain­ment. Watch­ing the Ben­net sis­ters slide knives into their garter belts, I was re­minded of a line from Austen’s fi­nal novel, Per­sua­sion: “I hate to hear you talk about all women as if they were fine ladies in- stead of ra­tio­nal crea­tures. None of us want to be in calm wa­ters all our lives.” Based on the first 20 min­utes of 13 Hours: The Se­cret Sol­diers of Beng­hazi, here’s a list of peo­ple di­rec­tor Michael Bay doesn’t like: CIA desk jock­eys, di­plo­mats, grad­u­ates of Har­vard and Yale, any­one who can’t bench press twice their own body weight. Is­lamic ex­trem­ists, the os­ten­si­ble bad guys, fol­low some­where down the line. The sta­tus of women is un­clear: when it’s men­tioned that Muam­mar Gaddafi’s prae­to­rian guard con­sisted of well-en­dowed Ama­zons, one of Bay’s he­roes opines: “Gaddafi may have been an evil ass­hole but he wasn’t stupid.’’

It’s easy to poke fun at Bay. He loves blow­ing up things (and here, as in Pearl Har­bor, he in­cludes a bomb’s per­spec­tive), he over­does the pa­tri­o­tism and the machismo, usu­ally in com­bi­na­tion, and seems to see no real dis­tinc­tion be­tween God and the United States.

But that doesn’t mean you can just make up stuff about his movies. I read, for ex­am­ple, that 13 Hours had no close-ups of Arab faces. That isn’t true. We see the Arab fight­ers on both sides of the civil war and we see a range of emo­tions from them. The most mov­ing scene comes when Arab women and chil­dren drift into a no­man’s land to claim their dead. It’s beau­ti­fully shot by Os­car-win­ning Aus­tralian cinema-

Pride and Prej­u­dice and Zom­bies tog­ra­pher Dion Beebe, who brings a lot of class to Bay’s testos­terone-fu­elled true life drama.

Beebe won his Os­car for the lav­ish Mem­oirs of a Geisha but his hand­held cam­era work here, which cap­tures the chaos, con­fu­sion and per­ma­nent panic of a lawless place, re­calls his col­lab­o­ra­tion with Michael Mann on the bril­liant Tom Cruise hit-man thriller Col­lat­eral.

13 Hours, based on the book by Mitchell Zuck­off, tells the story of a con­certed ex­trem­ist at­tack on two US fa­cil­i­ties — a diplo­matic com­pound and a not-so-covert CIA out­post — in Beng­hazi on Septem­ber 11, 2012. It is a year af­ter the over­throw of Gaddafi and the Libyan city is one of the most dan­ger­ous places on earth. Bay and Beebe con­vey this suc­cinctly in a pan­icky se­quence in a street mar­ket. The touts of­fer not knock-off de­signer sun­glasses but rock­ets and other heavy weapons.

The job of pro­tect­ing the US di­plo­mats and spies rests with six pri­vate mil­i­tary con­trac­tors, all for­mer elite sol­diers. They look sim­i­lar — bearded bricks — but it’s worth sin­gling out John Krasin­ski as Jack Da Silva. He has come a long way from Jim Halpert in the Amer­i­can ver­sion of The Of­fice and he has been build­ing to an im­pres­sive role like this for a while.

There are ten­sions with the CIA chief on the ground (an ex­cel­lent David Costa­bile). “You are the hired help; act the part,’’ he tells them. But when the shoot­ing starts, the real men take over. “You’re in my world now,’’ team leader Ty­rone Woods (James Badge Dale) cau­tions.

The en­su­ing siege is grip­ping. The 2½-hour run­ning time has few slow spots and brings home the re­lent­less­ness of the sit­u­a­tion (as the ti­tle sug­gests, the waves of at­tacks lasted 13 hours). There’s a keen sense of the de­fend­ers’ des­per­ate un­cer­tainty when it came to dif­fer­en­ti­at­ing, in a trig­ger se­cond, be­tween the “bad guys” and the “good guys’’ of the lo­cal mili­tia. This is what a place looks like when ev­ery­one has guns.

Beng­hazi hap­pened on the watch of Hil­lary Clin­ton when she was sec­re­tary of state. But no men­tion is made of the pres­i­den­tial as­pi­rant. Bay’s in­ter­est is less political and more per­sonal. He tells the story of six men, all of whom have fam­i­lies, do­ing a bloody job in near-im­pos­si­ble cir­cum­stances. If you are look­ing for an im­mer­sive ac­tion thriller, this will do the trick.

Bella Heathcote and Suki Water­house in

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