Starring; Tom Taylor, Idris Elba, Matthew McConaughey, Jackie Earle Haley, Dennis Haysbert, Claudia Kim, Fran Kranz, Katheryn Winnick, Michael Barbieri, Jose Zuniga
Directed By: Nikolaj Arcel
The Plot: Based on the series of books, this film is a truncated version that attempts to cover the wide arc covering the novels, and features a young boy named Jake (Taylor) who has been having visions of another world where The Man In Black (McConaughey) is trying to destroy The Dark Tower and bring darkness to all worlds, and one gunslinger (Elba) is trying to stop this from happening. His parents think he’s crazy, but as Jake finds more and more proof to back up his dreams, he eventually finds himself crossing over to the other world, and figures out it’s not just a dream anymore.
Disclaimer: I think it’s important to include a little disclaimer. I did not read the book series. I would call myself a casual fan of Stephen King, meaning that I don’t believe I’ve ever read his books, but I’m familiar with several of his filmed adaptations (both in TV and Movie form). Depending on whether or not you read the books, you will probably have a very different experience. If you’ve read the books, I would suggest you seek out a critic who has also read the books. If you have not read the books, you might share a similar perspective with me.
What Works: What I liked about this film the most has nothing to do with the film itself. I did find myself drawn to this world that Stephen King has created, with the themes, ideas, and concepts being the best things about this film. The core structure to this film is what captivated me the most. This film works best almost as a cliffs notes version to that world, and if they were to make a longer, more faithful adaptation as a TV series, I’d be very interested in that. Aside from that, everything here is pretty much “fine”. It’s conveyor belt moviemaking, in that every frame and scene is competently shot for the most part. Idris Elba does a good job. Tom Taylor is a nice discovery, and really managed to hold his role and the film together. Bonus points for casting Michael Barbieri in a supporting role. He was great in Little Men, and I’m happy to see him continuing to get work. The visual effects here are nothing special, but they’re also not bad. They’re sufficient. I didn’t notice the score, which is sometimes a good thing. It didn’t detract from the film. I can’t say the film felt too long, because if anything, it felt too short. I could have stayed in the theatre longer, which is something that is very rarely said about films. Usually they’re too long or just right. Very rarely do you leave the theatre feeling that you could have stayed another 30 minutes, and you might have gotten a more complete story.
What Doesn’t Work: Like I said, the film felt rushed. It felt like we were running from major plot point to major plot point. The film has a ton of exposition, but I’ll give that a pass because it’s also a fish out of water story where exposition feels natural, because the main characters need things explained to them as they are not in the world they’re used to. McConaughey was too nice of a bad guy, and way too likeable. His character is a giant dick, but I kept falling for McConaughey’s natural charm that he just can’t shake. I could tell there’s so much more here that we just didn’t see, but we got a sanitized version of. This is almost a PG film, for me. They were aiming so hard for a PG-13 rating, that there’s really very little offensive material here. There’s no gore, nothing scary. There’s a few questionably disturbing images that I might not show to anyone under 10, but most kids who are 10 and up have already seen anything in this film. It’s super sanitized for a wide audience, which can be a bad thing when you’re trying to market the Stephen King angle. When I hear Stephen King, I expect some scares, or horror, and there was none of that here.
Final Word: It’s certainly not a great film, but I found myself (for whatever reason) enjoying the film more than not enjoying it. I felt myself wanting more, instead of wanting less. All of those things led to a somewhat positive moviegoing experience for me, coming in as someone who didn’t read the books. I’m a little surprised that it has such a low score on Rotten Tomatoes, unless all those critics read the books. If you didn’t read the books, you’ll probably find this a decent time, though I can’t recommend rushing to theatres to watch it.
Final Grade: B-