By Dave Campbell | February 26, 2009
Director: Zack Snyder
Writer(s): David Hayter and Alex Tse (screenplay) Dave Gibbons (graphic novel illustrator) Alan Moore (graphic novel) uncredited
Staring: Jackie Earle Haley, Patrick Wilson, Malin Akerman, Carla Gugino, Billy Crudup, Matthew Goode, Jeffrey Dean Morgan
Watchmen takes place in an alternate 1985 where superheroes exist, Richard Nixon remains as president, and the United States and Soviet Union are minutes away from seeing the atomic clock strike midnight. Superheroes became unpopular with the public, which led to the Keene act of 1977 outlawing their profession. Only Doctor Manhattan (the only superhuman character) and the Comedian work as government-sanctioned agents, while Rorschach roams the streets outside of the law providing vigilante justice. With pending nuclear war in the air Rorschach investigates the murder of the Comedian, a once fellow member of the Watchmen. Rorschach seeks out fellow Watchmen; Doctor Manhattan (Jon Osterman), Nite Owl (Dan Dreiberg), Silk Spectre (Laurie Juspeczyk), and Ozymandias (Adrian Veidt) to warn them of what’s coming. Rorschach soon discovers a conspiracy involving a colleague that will drastically change the course of history.
The scope of this film matches the huge universe in which it lives. Each character is handled with care and each pivotal moment captured as if it fell right off the paper in which it was printed. For a film so bold, gritty, and raw in all the right places, the cinematography is just epic & beautiful. Each moment is encapsulated frame by frame as memorable snap shots that are poster ready. The depth of the storytelling is handled well even with the Tales of the Black Freighter being absent from this cut of the film. As a fan of the book I appreciate the single camera approach they used which humanizes this visual interpretation and prevents optical falseness.
Jackie Earle Haley IS Walter Kovacs aka Rorschach, the masked vigilante who wears a morphing ink blot mask that reflects his emotions. Haley’s performance was more than I could have ever dreamed of. He brought exactly the tone I imagined when I read the book and took it beyond. He owns the character and gave us yet another example of the major talent that he is. I hope this brings him even more visibility in Hollywood as one of the greats. It really shows that Haley had read the comic and actively pursued the role. When he caught wind of being a favorite among fans, Haley enlisted fourteen friends to help him put together an audition performing scenes right out of the book. Haley’s black belt in Kenpo Karate shines through as his movements are precise and add more control to the stature demanded of the Rorschach character. Rorschach’s brutally aggressive bad ass-ery is well represented.
Patrick Wilson nails the challenged Daniel Dreiberg aka Nite Owl II. Now retired, the once confident superhero with vast technological experience is now jaded and not the complete person he once was. Snyder cast Wilson after seeing his performance in 2006’s Little Children, which also co-starred Jackie Earle Haley. Wilson had to put on 25lbs to play the now overweight Dreiberg. He compared Dreiberg to “a soldier who returns from war who is unable to fit in with society again”. Wilson does very well at handling the complex transition of emerging out of the middle-aged shell of Dan and back into the elegant force of Nite Owl. Wilson brings out the likable nice guy personality of Dan and at the same time unleashes the of Nite Owl
Malin Akerman plays the conflicted and sexy Laurie Juspeczyk aka Silk Spectre II (daughter of Sally Jupiter aka Silk Spectre). Akerman brings a feminine strength to the table in a heavy male populated cast. The character of Laurie Juspeczyk undergoes self discovery and reaches levels of awareness that are presented quite dynamically by Akerman. Her take of the character adds broader psychology and emotion to the film. Carla Gugino graces the screen as Sally Jupiter aka Silk Spectre, the retired superheroine, mother of Laurie Juspeczyk and the first Silk Spectre. Gugino’s plays the character from 25-67 years old. As if she wasn’t seen this way already, Gugino struck the Alberto Vargas Pin-Up styled superhero dead on. As stated earlier, I noticed that there seemed to be some areas cut from the mother-daughter moments from the book. With a talked about Directors Cut to possibly release on Blu-ray and DVD I hope this is something that was filmed and can be edited back in.
Billy Crudup takes on the most unique role in the film as Doctor Jon Osterman aka Dr. Manhattan – A physicist turned superhero via lab accident with genuine powers who works for the U.S. government. Crudup has to accomplish something different than the other actors. Rather than playing a human and their alter-ego hero, Crudup plays the man Jon Osterman pre-accident and then the force that is Dr. Manhattan post accident. Crudup’s performance as Manhattan is replaced in the film with a motion-capture CG rendering of himself which works very well in contrast to compliment his transition. Crudup displayed all the right subtleties when creating the dry, human-less behaviors of Manhattan as he drifts further away from relating to humanity. Doing all of this and without becoming off-putting was impressive to see.
Matthew Goode suits up as Adrian Veidt aka Ozymandias, the now retired superhero who has made his identity very public. Goode excels at exuding the pretentious holier-than-thou attitude and personality of Adrian Veidt…also known as the smartest man alive. Snyder wanted someone “big and tall and lean” to add a “beautiful ageless, Aryan Superman” feel to the character. Mission accomplished, Goode interpreted Veidt’s Pharaoh-esq lifestyle with pride and confidence. Jeffrey Dean Morgan plays the guy you love and hate at the same time, Edward Blake aka The Comedian. Comedian is a US Government commissioned superhero who makes excuses for his constant despicable acts. Morgan was the right choice for the somehow likable a-hole that really doesn’t go for laughs.
Faithful, respectful, and brilliant – Zack Snyder has accomplished the delicate task of accomplishing something special with a story cherished by so many. I even agree with the changes made to the end of the story which I think holds up much better in the film medium. My only struggle preventing a coveted 10 is my wish to see the Tales of the Black Freighter embedded into the story in some way. I understand why the choice was made to separate it, but as a die hard fan of the book I missed it’s presence from the film. This project has been through a development roller coaster for 23 years and was said to be “unfilmable” by directors and producers who were once attached. It seems as if time and talent were standing by to prove them wrong. Bravo Mr. Snyder & Team…Bravo.