Starring: Will Smith, Alice Braga, Charlie Tahan. Rated PG-13.
It’s the end
of the world as he
knows it, and Robert Neville is feeling anything but fine.
a military virologist who might
just be the last man on earth, Neville (Will Smith) spends his days cruising
the desolate streets of Manhattan, where billboards for Hairspray, Rent and Legally
Blonde serve as melancholy reminders of a
once-bustling civilization in the final stages of a swift decline. By night, he
barricades himself in a Washington Square brownstone equipped to withstand even
the fiercest home invasion.
His paranoia is justified.
to a manmade virus that has transformed 90 percent of the human race into rabid
cannibals, Neville is consumed by his lonely quest for a cure. The problem, of
course, is that his subjects would rather use him as lunchmeat than donate
their pale, hairless bodies to science.
Inspired by the
1954 novel by Twilight
Zone author Richard Matheson, I Am
Legend has surfaced on the screen before –
as 1964’s The Last Man on Earth,
chilling study of post-apocalyptic loneliness starring Vincent Price, and later
as The Omega Man, a middling remake
with Charlton Heston. Here, Smith is persuasive as Neville, a man driven to the
brink of madness by his prolonged lack of human companionship, and delivers one
of the most poignant, understated performances of his career.
role was initially intended
for Arnold Schwarzenegger during his 1990s heyday – Ridley Scott was slated to
direct – but Smith, who lends a touch of vulnerability to an otherwise
indomitable hero, is better suited to the task. Dispensing with the comic
bravado that has become his signature crutch, he lends gravity to a tale that
is as much a meditation on the realities of extreme separation anxiety as it is
a product of man’s ongoing battle against the legions of the undead.
I Am Legend is a superior
thriller when it focuses on Neville’s bid to
preserve his sanity in a city where time seems to stand still. Its streets are
lined with abandoned cars and overgrown vegetation, its towering bridges
leveled. In short, it is a haunting portrait of a fallen metropolis,
ingeniously rendered by cinematographer Andrew Lesnie.
makes the most of his
barren surroundings, perfecting his long game aboard the U.S.S. Intrepid and
making casual conversation with mannequins at the local video store. It is a
meager existence, but Smith makes his character’s psychological torment
believable. When he loses Sam, his beloved German Shepherd and the one
remaining link to the life he shared with his family, he reaches a dangerous
breaking point that sets up the film’s explosive finale.
It is then that I Am Legend
shifts from an absorbing character study to a tense but
familiar monster movie. The biggest problem is the monsters themselves – they
are at their creepiest when they lurk in the shadows, emerging ever so briefly
in swift, terrifying forays. Once we see more of them, though, they stand
revealed as routine CGI creations, crudely animated and unconvincing. In a film
of such visual majesty and surprisingly weighty drama, they present an
unfortunate and needless distraction.