[Dollar Theater Series] Looking back into World War Z: Characters and “Mister Hansom” Brad Pitt

Hello. This is a Korean in America. This article is another entry into the Dollar Theater Series. I will be discussing the movie “World War Z” and its lead the Legendary Brad Pitt.

Today, I visited my local dollar theater to see “World War Z”. My background with “World War Z” starts with standing for hours in a Mega book store in Seoul, Korea a few years ago. I loved the book which made be shed a tear or two at the end. I saw the movie “World War Z”on opening day this year. Beforehand,  I knew all the problems with production and I knew that the movie was “World War Z” in name only. So I had very low expectations. And the movie failed to satisfy even that level of expectation. I will not go over the individual problems with the movie as they are thoroughly discussed when the movie came out.

This time, sitting in the dollar theater, I knew all the problems, all the silly scenes, all the non-sense in the plot. So, it was less jarring than before. With the initial repulsion subdued by time, I enjoyed “World War Z” more and was able to zoom into what this movie really is and to Brad Pitt as an actor.

“World War Z” is basically a movie made using a really rough 1st draft script. When I say rough 1st draft script, I am indicating a script in which there is only story and not plot or character.

According to Foster (1927), story is a chronological sequence of events and plot is the causal and logical structure which connects events.  'Events’ generally include natural and non-natural happenings like floods or car accidents; 'action' more specifically refers to willful acts by characters (Jahn 2002).

You have thing that you want to happen and location you want the movie to do to. In order to achieve this, you stick “characters” in the story to facilitate what you want to put up on the screen. However, at this stage, the characters are just devices and not characters who have their own personality and motivations. It is in subsequent drafts that the story gets developed into a plot and devices get fleshed into characters. At this stage, the script is similar to what games used to use as scripts. In games of the previous generation, the narrative was mostly just a theme to support the actual game mechanics and not the center piece of the gaming experience.

For a rough 1st draft script, “World War Z” has potential. It has some interesting new approaches to Zombie movies which are basically a low budget horror sub-genre. The problem is that 1st draft scripts should not be turned into a movie! Even games now have much more developed narratives than what is actually in “World War Z”. You can just see that “World War Z” is using a script Jerry-rigged by someone to barely function.

So, the question is why does “World War Z” work to the degree it does work. I mean it made money. “World War Z” is Brad Pitt biggest movie of his career. The answer is with the actors and the casting directors mostly. I don’t know who did the casting but they did a great job with what they had to work with. If you have seen a lot of movies and televisions, you would recognize many faces in “World War Z”. You would not know their names or even where you have seen them previously but you have seen their faces. More importantly, you have seen the characters on screen.

Most of the actors portraying characters with any significant screen time are character actors. And you see the character they have played many times previously in other projects on screen. You are not seeing the characters created for “World War Z”. In other words, “World War Z” just casts actors with exiting character personas and let them use it. In this way, it is actually beneficial that the script for “World War Z” is so underdeveloped. They could just insert and copy without the script needing alterations.

Now we come to the main sticking point to the movie! For its screen time, “World War Z” has Brad Pitt’s character run around and interacting with “imported characters” who have been proven to be interesting in previous incarnations. At this point, you would expect at least  Brad Pitt’s character would be developed. You would be wrong! He is the same as all the other characters in the movie. You do not know who he is! You don’t know what he can do! You barely understand his motivations other than he “loves” his generic interchangeable family. What differs from the other characters is that Brad Pitt does not have a handle on the character compared to all the other significant actors in the movie.

Unlike movies such as “Oblivion” in which Tom Cruise is just playing the character he is always playing, Brad Pitt is actually trying to do some original character acting! And he is not firmly gotten a grasp on the character since there is not much to work with. While his character is not a particularly likable character, he is not an interesting unlikable character either. He is just a blank character who slightly selfish and not particularly good at his job.  An audience could accept an unlikable character but cannot accept one who is bad at his job which is required for the movie to move the story along. So, whenever he is interacting with the other actors in “World War Z”, his character is the least interesting one in the scene.

I am not saying Brad Pitt is the bad actor. Considering what he has to work with, I do think that it is a miracle that the character worked to the degree as it did. I mean that you never really want him to die through the movie even though he is escaping from situations without doing anything of any significance. Contrary to our tendency to want characters, who haven’t earned the right to survive, die,  Brad Pitt brings enough charm to the character to keep us rooting for him form crisis A to crisis B.

For Brad Pitt, this is not an easy thing to do especially on his own. Brad Pitt is an actor who does not have enough personality and character to be a character actor. At the same time, he does not have the energy and screen presence to create a screen persona that can be used repeatedly such as Tom Cruise. Brad Pitt is an actor stuck in the middle of the two extremes and thus has to act to make his character each time. It also does not help that his acting style is very subtle. A good example would be the movie “Meet Joe black” in which he displays some very subtle acting. In this manner, Brad Pitt is in the same category as George Clooney.

Brad Pitt is a good actor but does not really meet the criteria of a Hollywood leading man. He needs to be matched up with more energetic actor he can bounce off from. In other words, he cannot carry a movie on his own. Alone he tends to not generate enough energy on screen especially without a good and witty script which is not the case for “World War Z”. Actually, “World War Z” compensates for this although it does not seem to be intentional. By passing Brad Pitt from one character actor to another, the movie keeps giving someone that he can work off of. This is contrast to movies such as “After Earth”.

At the end, the success of “World War Z” may be more of an accident than created by design. It had a terribly under-developed script but was saved by casting character actors and letting them do what they do best rather than actually directing them. The charm of Brad Pitt was also a significant factor in tying all the pieces together. “World War Z” is an example of an accidental success not earned by the producer or directors but given purely through casting and poor management.

Please go read or listen to the book  “World War Z” which is a master piece compared to the movie!

Audio Review By Spill.com

Dollar Theater Series
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