Jonah Hex a Mish Mash of What Could Have Been
I had to wait to see the 2010 comic book western Jonah Hex until it came up in my husband’s Netflix queue. Sadly, we were both disappointed in this hodgepodged and chopped up adaptation of what could have been a fine, brooding western with modern sensibilities.
After Confederate veteran Jonah Hex (Josh Brolin) disobeys an order from his commander Quentin Turnbull (John Malkovich) and ends up killing his friend and Turnbull’s son Jeb (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), Turnbull seeks revenge by killing Hex’s family and branding his face. After recuperating with Native Americans, Hex is able to toe the line of death and can temporarily resurrect and speak to the dead. He seeks vengeance on Turnbull and his Irish henchman Burke (Michael Fassbender), but the prostitute Lilah (Megan Fox) wishes to runaway with Hex. President Grant (Aidan Quinn) sends his Lieutenant (Will Arnett) to find Hex, for he is the only man who can prevent Turnbull from completing and using a powerful superweapon to destroy Washington D.C. on America’s Centennial.
Um, yeah. Well, Red Dead Redemption is a better western than Jonah Hex turned out to be. The narration explains a lot of what should have been shown, and it’s really odd that director Jimmy Hayward (Horton Hears a Who!) put a comic animation into the film rather than actually showing more of Hex’s quasi mystical Indian recovery. I know this is based on a DC Comic, but someone-probably a lot of coming and going someones-dropped the ball in this poorly edited, under 80 minute adaptation. Writers Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor (Gamer, Crank) and William Farmer (Bullethead) should have either played the straight western or kicked up the fantastical and deathly angles. Instead, we end up with a ho-hum mix of both thanks to the uneven story, editing, and direction. This could have been a seriously intelligent yarn with plenty of R action, but brooding questions between Hex and Turnbull asking who is the worse monster or more damned soul are never fully explored. Every scene in Jonah Hex is simply too short. Was this entire production really cornered into appealing to the instantaneous PG teenage demographic?
Everything happens too fast here. Slow down the entire picture, please! It is okay to stop for detailed character observation, and there was so much more to explore in Jonah Hex. Why was Turnbull targeting hospitals during the war to begin with? Hex is pro confederacy but anti slavery, why? His wife was an American Indian- what were his ties to the Native tribes before his mystical experience? How did Hex meet Lilah anyway? How many times have we seen films marking the 100th anniversary of the US- this plot point could have been much more involved indeed. Your main character’s life is in a flashback for goodness sake! Another half hour straightening all of this out could have gone a long way. In addition to the historical and mystical unevenness (make up your $%^&*# mind!) the choppy editing leaves plenty of plot holes. How did Burke know where to find Lilah-or that she was even involved with Hex? Even if some of these nitpicks are explained, blink and you miss it. I’ve heard of movies faulted for being to slow-especially for American mentalities- but this pacing is ridiculous. Was there a point to Hex and Turnbull’s purgatory-esque desert battlings? Whose brilliant idea was it to cut between two fights on two different planes but with the same men? You’d think we’d want Hex to end this film ASAP, but if this was all supposed to be so dang angry and personal, how do you conclude with an open, happy ending?
Actually, I feel bad for Josh Brolin (No Country for Old Men). Although it’s understandably ugly looking and unrealistic at the same time, the face makeup design is cool. Brolin makes the good bounty hunting cowboy- a lot of American actors today really don’t have that kind of onscreen weight. And while I think he could have added an even darker voice and angry presence to Hex, the script fails Brolin more than anything else. Is he a cool bad ass or all about the vengeance? Again, his narration doesn’t help in establishing much of anything. I don’t doubt Brolin could have done more- it’s amazing he’s in demand again all these years after The Goonies- but even his best delivered lines don’t make up for some seriously weak dialogue. His performance can’t have been easy with the facial prosthetics; and hey, the cute dog angles were a lot of fun, but it just seems like we don’t spend enough time getting to know the titular man himself. We never actually meet Hex’s family, so how can we care about his revenge? Was it a good marriage? Did he know Lilah during his marital life? Now that would have been interesting!
At first, I thought it was just me on my Fassy Festivus Bender bender, but it seems anyone who saw this film thought Michael Fassbender’s (Hunger, 300, Inglourious Basterds) over the top and bizarre Riddler-esque Burke was the best part of Jonah Hex. 10 years from now, I suspect everyone is going to look back at this film and ask how did we not know this man was a star. It’s like Brad Pitt in Thelma and Louise. (Chick kills guy, chick bags Brad Pitt, chicks go over cliff, fin.) Am I gushing? I’m trying not to, really I am. Besides, what are the odds of an actor starring in two titles with the word ‘hex’ in them? Perhaps Fassbender doesn’t have a lot of screen time here or his scenes may seem infrequent, but there simply isn’t a lot of onscreen for anyone in a 70-minute plus credits movie. Burke’s great joy at violence tides us over from scene to scene, but his sequences are too dang brief- go to the kitchen and you miss an awful lot in this movie! Fassbender completely transforms himself again with wonderfully bad yet jubilant eyes and a musical, almost operatic way of killing. I must say, I laughed for days over his first line a half hour into the film. Who the heck else can get away with a line like “pretty orange balls”? Burke’s Irish accent is thick, put on, exaggerated, even crazy at times when he sings his little ditties, and I would love to see Fassbender and Brolin head to head again for sure.
I feel bad that Burke seems to steal Hex’s thunder, but he’s made a much more interesting character. We only know what we see from Burke’s psychotic ways and crazy attitude, but otherwise he’s a mystery. Why is such a bowler wearing thoroughly Irish guy with Maori tattoos whistling Johnny Reb tunes and taking a backseat to Turnbull? Fassbender’s badass shouldn’t be second fiddle to John Malkovich – which isn’t an easy thing for me to say (even during the said Fassbender Festivus) because most people can’t help themselves at being inferior to John Malkovich. Fassbender has the best lines in Jonah Hex, and he rhythmically delivers almost flirtatious insults about Hex’s “pretty” face. Clearly, he’s absolutely having fun in his scene with Megan Fox, although there should have been a lot more sedition and juiciness in that scene. A man like Burke pulls a Bowie knife like that on a woman and he’s going to use it! Honestly, if we’re going to have a mini microfilm, just splice Brolin and Fassy’s scenes together, you need nothing else from Jonah Hex. I don’t think the production knew what they had when the film was cut, but once they realized how Burke overshadows everyone, Fassbender was brought along in the promotion and marketing campaign. Frankly, I’d rather they just put out a damn Director’s Cut DVD with the other half hour of the frickin’ movie! I’ve been waiting for the Blockbuster near me to close so I can get one of the 50 Jonah Hex copies for $1-or $3 tops. Even for Fassbender, I’m not paying anymore for this movie than I absolutely have to. Now, if there was a re-cut 2 hour plus blu- ray director’s edition with a no holds barred complete Burke and Lilah scene, I’d pay full price and put an amen to it.
Well then, let’s talk about Megan Fox, shall we? I’m sorry but the Transformers hottie does not look right in a period piece. Her style and design here is simply too modern with steam punk-like costumes amid all the other Victorian proper ladies. Yes, Lilah is a prostitute, but the other styles are authentic, why isn’t hers? Good Lord, Fox has a tiny-ass becorseted waist here, and boys, she is very pretty indeed. If Fox’s placement here was purely for the drool, then why are the sex scenes faded to black anyway? Why does she even like Hex? Where is the explanation for why she is such a kickass lover and fighter? Lilah’s action scenes are styled likeUnderworld, again steam punk against the straight up fight scenes between the boys. Why? Although I confess I’ve not see any of her other work, I’ll even go out on a limb and say perhaps she does have talent, somewhere. Sadly, even in a film as bad as Jonah Hex, she is out of her class. For some reason, Fox also seems soft focused or ill lit. I didn’t think they still did that- wasn’t that sort of filming reserved for when Marilyn Monroe was drunk or when Ingrid Bergman could only be filmed from her preferred side? If Jonah Hex is any indication, Fox is not in the same group as those ladies, that’s for dang sure.
Wow, John Malkovich (Places in the Heart, Dangerous Liaisons, In the Line of Fire, and of course Being John Malkovich) looks old and completely mis-styled as an angry and powerful Southern gentleman hell bent on the South rising again. I have to wonder, how many days did he work on this film? Such a thespian deserves far better material to sink his teeth into, and the seemingly disinterested Turnbull just mumbles through his fleeting scenes. His scenes here make me want to watch his classy self in The Man in the Iron Mask. And poor Aidan Quinn (Legends of the Fall, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee) deserves far more than exposition and little more then a cameo in what might have been a seriously fine performance as Ulysses Grant. He can have a movie as Grant at the centennial all on his own. There’s so many name people in Jonah Hex, both well cast and miscast, who aren’t even introduced or have only one brief scene. Tom Wopat- Luke Duke, really? And where has Wes Bentley (American Beauty) been all these years?
Now, there are a few favorable things in Jonah Hex, believe it or not. The costume design, sweet New Orleans locations, and brief Civil War action look authentic enough- so much so one might wonder why the story just didn’t start closer to battle action that spurred this supposedly so critical hatred in motion. Linger on the Civil War and personal issues where you can’t go wrong, lengthen the dang movie some, and that actually even leaves a chance for sequels. Although the western look is on form with a naturally rugged and dirty palette, the frigging horse cannon is simply preposterous! What horse is going to stay still for that? And what’s the point of the cowboy snake man cage match thing? Excuse me, not that I know that much about explosives, but a damn dynamite gun couldn’t work if the sticks sweat, right? Kaboom. (Where’s the kaboom? There was supposed to be an earth-shattering kaboom!) Just like every other action picture, the big bangs are too loud and the voices are all too darn soft. Everything in Jonah Hex seems one step forward, two steps back. The train heist sequence is very sweet; the music is a fitting blend of period-esque and some hard modern stylings; and the mostly real locations go a long way against the ease of today’s CGI backgrounds. I simply love the old school twang added to opening Warner Brothers logo, too. Sadly, so many things are too dark to see, and that extreme gunnery and orange ball exposition is just not flying. A ‘Nation Killer’ weapon- is that a WMD reference or just dumb?
Of course, there’s also all kinds of other crap filling up the blu-ray rental edition of Jonah Hex, all of it unrelated to the show of course. There are no features on the rental edition or even scene select options, either, but at least we have subtitles. Goodness gracious me there are just too many credits and useless fluff. I seriously wish this would simply be redone, like the Exorcist: The Beginning and Dominion: Prequel to The Exorcist or Edward Norton’s quick The Incredible Hulk reboot of Ang Lee’s 2003 Hulk. Although I’ve not read the comic series, I’m a sucker for a good western. We haven’t had many in recent years, and this story deserves to be done properly. Maybe the material would have been better served as a television series? We are overdue for another hard-hitting episodic western as well. Instead of being a short, gimmicky, juvenile mix of badass and comic book, Jonah Hex should have been long, dark, brooding, and heavy. Even if you don’t like brooding westerns, this juvenile yarn attempt clearly failed, didn’t it? No doubt, there are actually audiences out there who can love this silly little flawed film. Completist fans of the cast will certainly add Jonah Hex to their collections as well. However, if you’re looking for a mature western or faithful adaptation, move along cowboy.
Review by Kristin | MFO | I Think, Therefore I Review