War of the worlds with zombies
Film of the week: World War Z (15A, general release, 116 minutes) 3 stars
Director: Marc Foster Stars: Brad Pitt, Mireille Enos, David Morse, James Badge Dale
Given the dreadful advance word about Marc Forster and Brad Pitt's apocalyptic action thriller, and ominous reports of hasty reshoots and rewrites, the finished product is something of a pleasant surprise.
World War Z is a project dear to Pitt's heart: he went to great lengths to secure the rights to Max Brooks' sci-fi novel back in 2007, and has personally driven this movie from the start. He's producer and also stars, and though at first he might seem a bad fit for a zombie movie, it's clear why this particular zombie yarn caught his imagination.
Brooks' novel describes a global zombie pandemic, a horrific virus that spreads like wildfire and may have been inculcated and abetted by global warming, environmental malfunction and chronic overpopulation. It starts in the east, possibly in China, and the first thing Gerry Lane (Pitt) and his family hear about it is when Philadelphia is inexplicably attacked.
Gerry and his wife Karen (Mireille Enos, star of the US version of The Killing) are driving their kids to school one morning when the traffic grinds to a halt and people around them begin to panic.
When their car is attacked by a rabid man, they slowly realise that the city is experiencing a plague of zombies. Those bitten by the creatures become undead flesh-eaters themselves within 10 seconds, and Gerry and his family are lucky to escape the city with their lives.
Gerry is well connected: he's a former United Nations troubleshooter, and when he places a call to his old boss Thierry (Fana Mokoena), he, his wife and two kids are airlifted to a US battleship anchored a hundred miles off America's eastern seaboard. They're safe, but their security comes at a price.
The zombie plague has spread across the world: American intelligence has heard about Gerry's work in dangerous war zones, and wants him to travel to South Korea to find a possible source of the virus that might prove invaluable in the hunt for a cure. If he says no, his family will be unceremoniously dumped back on the mainland.
So Gerry goes, first to Korea, where reports of a ‘patient zero' turn out to be spurious, thence to Israel, the world's only zombiefree state thanks to a high wall they erected around themselves in the nick of time.
Gerry arrives just in time to see that wall spectacularly breached, and his search for a cure then takes him to Wales, of all places, where a remote research centre may just provide a clue.
I can imagine some punters turning up to World War Z expecting a gory zombie-shoot and coming away disappointed, because this is a much more serious film than your average horror yarn. Brooks' novel is full of political and environmental metaphors, and the film blends these with an inyour- face newsy style that makes the story seem unsettlingly plausible.
The opening sequence in which Philadelphia is attacked is exceedingly well handled, and drags you into the centre of the crisis along with Gerry and his family.
Unlike most zombie films, World War Z is more about suspense than out-and-out action, an approach exemplified in a clever sequence at a zombie-infested laboratory where Gerry realises he may have stumbled on a way of fighting back.
That scene is part of a last half hour that was tacked onto the film after Paramount executives decided the original cut didn't make enough sense. It's the weakest part of the movie, and slowly drains the story of momentum, but overall World War Z is an intelligent, cleverly made and surprisingly absorbing film.
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