Friday, 20 March 2020

Movie review: Bright, dir David Ayer (2017)

When I first started watching this movie I got about 15 minutes in and stopped. Later, on Twitter, a Pennsylvania man named Matthew Ortiz tweeted to me, “I would encourage you to revisit the film and give the full experience a chance.” So I went back and watched the whole thing and was enchanted.

This movie is done in shades of pale grey though of course it is in full colour from a technical perspective. What I mean to say is that are no heroes. The film explores a number of themes, including structural racism and inequality. It centres on two Los Angeles cops, one a human named Daryl Ward (Will Smith) and the other an orc – this is a work of speculative fiction – named Nick Jakoby (Joel Edgerton).

One night, in response to what they think will be a routine callout the two receive while driving on the street in their patrol car, they meet an elf named Tikka (Lucy Fry) who has a magic wand. Earlier, they had picked up a homeless man (Alex Boling), whom they had assumed to be crazy and who had been brandishing a sword in the street, making a fuss. He kept talking about the “Dark Lord” and at first they don’t put the clues together in a way that can make sense of what they have seen.

Of course this being an action thriller things soon get out of hand. But it’s an unusual genre film, one that interrogates the issue of entrenched inequality in the US, as in the film there are different species that cannot mix. You cannot move from being an orc, for example, to being a human, although due to positive discrimination policies Jakoby is the first orc in the country who is the member of a police force. In the real world you can move from being working class to being middle class or, at least your children can switch from the one to the other even if you yourself cannot.

In this film, by turning the dial a few notches to the left you see the world in a different way, and you begin to understand that there is happiness to be found regardless of your material circumstances. On the other hand, it also shows how discrimination can lead to corruption and injustice. It’s a bit of meaningful fun where fantasy – as a generation of ‘Harry Potter’ fans found – helps make life strange so that the consumer can see what is real about people and what is merely imposed by ideas that come from elsewhere. Form versus substance.

I liked Edgerton’s Jakoby, who is gormless and talks too much but loves his job. And the elves are great. Noomi Rapace is Leilah, an elf who belongs to a group called “Inferni”, and Edgar Ramirez is Kandomere, a federal law enforcement operative.

For people who enjoy fantasy, this film offers plenty of good things, including magic wands, spells, and powerful forces that only the elect can control and use. I really loved watching it once I had gotten past the feeling that its genre elements were overdone. They are utilitarian and somewhat crude but they help to unleash significations that might otherwise have remained concealed. 

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