Director: Zack Snyder
Cast: Emily Browning, Abbie Cornish, Jena Malone, Vanessa Hudgens, Jamie Chung, Carla Gugino, Oscar Isaac, Jon Hamm, Scott Glenn
Synopsis: A young woman is attacked by her stepfather following her mother’s death, as he is in a rage over the daughters inheriting and not himself. During this attack, the woman accidentally kills her younger sister, and the stepfather takes this as an opportunity to have her committed to a mental asylum. He bribes a staff member to have her assigned for a lobotomy, which is to occur in five days time. The girl retreats into a fantasy world wher she is trapped in a bordello. She adopts the persona Baby Doll, and attempts an escape with her fellow inmates.
A review by Film Nerd.
Finally, I am really starting to eat into my list of genre films I wished to see this year, with my third from that list being seen in as many weeks. Sucker Punch has been in cinemas for many weeks, and I have had the chance to read a few reviews myself before seeing it. Many were scathing, portraying the film as little more than a teenage boy’s fantasy. This accusation was levelled due to the fetishistic costumes worn by the five lead actresses, as well as an almost video game style of action to the proceedings.
Both of these accusations are far from invalid, but in my experience of the film, I thought that labelling the films quality on these points alone over-simplified what Snyder was trying to portray with this film. This is his first film that is not either a remake (Dawn of the Dead), or based on a graphic novel (300, Watchmen). He has succeeded in his first attempt at doing something original to achieve just that, a truly unique piece of cinema. I make no claims that this originality opens it to a wide audience, but it deserves a wider audience than just teenage boys.
To go into more detail, the majority of the film is set in the fantasy realm of the bordello, yet it then descends into further fantasy scenarios that are fantasies within the fantasy. So far, so Inception. At each level of fantasy, yes the outfits worn do correlate with recognisable fetishistic stereotypes, such as the french maid, the nurse, and the too short sailor outfit. However, the costumes as designed are no worse than costumes routinely seen on-screen in modern cinema. Also, to accuse Snyder of doing this out of chauvinistic elements should recall that he had his largely male cast wear a lot less in 300. This costuming is also not ENTIRELY gratuitous. The bordello is not a setting of titillation, yet it is a representation of their prison the girls are inhabiting in the asylum. In a way, the outfits are a symbol of the bondage they are seeking to break free from. They do look cool, and they do show flesh, but as i said, to leave comments left at that alone is a little incomplete.
As for the film playing like a video game, the fact is the style is well within keeping with Snyder’s style as represented by 300 and Watchmen. This style is most represented on the second level of fantasy, with the girls fighting steam-punk nazis, dragons and robots. The action is over the top, mind-blowing, and visually stunning. They do advance the plot, sometimes just barely, yet later in the film this technique is turned on its own head in a fascinating way, that actually ends up being a stunning way to advance the plot. Speaking of which, the plot itself unravels to be quite clever and emotional, and I am inclined to agree with the starlets that this film can be viewed as quite empowering, and perhaps not just in a girl power sence, but it may just prove empowering for those teenage boys that come for the visuals, especially if they are victims of bullies or of generally being ostracised from their peers.
As for performances, they are uniformly brilliant. Emily Browning I found somewhat wooden at times, but as the film progresses that is actually quite appropriate for the character, and when she is required to play anguish or strength, she does so successfully. Abbie Cornish, the other Aussie, does even better, and perhaps is just as much of a lynchpin in the film as Browning. Malone steps up to the plate with these two, and carves a strong identity of her own. Hudgens and Chung are left a little wanting as a result, but still manage to show singular moments of individual talent. The external characters all play their roles, but only two more are really worth special mention, Carla Gugino brings a quite but subjugated power to her role as Doctor to the patients/Mistress of Bordello. Hardly a surprise as she is always brilliant. Jon Hamm gets little screen time, but he makes it count, especially in his final scene. He certainly reminded me to get off my butt and start watching Mad Med season 2.
The setting and the filming techniques make this film very easy to label from a superficial point of view. While the critics were not wowed, I am getting the impression that audiences are. As always I link the trailer below. If the visuals are immediately off-putting and deter you, avoid the film. But if it sparks a curiosity, give it a look. I am inclined to think you will have an enjoyable two hours
4 stars out of 5