Always the Bridesmaid
by ETHAN PETERSON
dir. David Ayer
I recently received an e-mail from a concerned reader, a member of the guild. He asked me why we put the only name of the director on a movie review when the writer of a film is often just as important to the final product. As an example, he cited The Princess Bride, which required almost no input from Rob Reiner at all, and was possibly made substantially worse by the director’s presence. Well, this concerned reader had a point, and I will take it under advisement. But today is not the time, since the writer of Bright is dogshit, and whether the changes director David Ayer made to the script are good or bad, it is spiritually and morally preferable to pretend that Bright was more like an immaculate conception.
Pretending only goes so far, however. Bright still features the awful, patterned, unfunny dialogue of He Who Shall Not Be Named, and listening to it is something of a chore. On the plus side of the ledger is the presence of two likable and disciplined actors: as a police officer in Los Angeles, Will Smith, who is finally beginning to look seriously old, and Joel Edgerton as his partner, an orc. The former is somewhat traditional casting, but the latter is inspired. Edgerton’s chameleonic face is intrinsically unmemorable. Slathering it in blue makeup gives him the distinctiveness required to slip into a particular role.
For the amount of adjectives I have used so far in this essai, I should probably try to get my name removed from this review. Sometimes such words are required to say what you mean. (I will try to be more plainspoken from now on; like if Raymond Carver had a child with the guy who wrote The Trumpet of the Swan.) Bright has its own vocabulary/lore, although it is pretty shitty/dumb. Urban fantasy is new to Max Landis, since the only book he has ever read is the Model Penal Code. This Los Angeles is filled with different races: orcs, elves, centaurs (I didn’t see any, but I think it says this in the wikipedia). OK actually there are not that many races.
Envisioning Bright as the first effort in a series of films, Ayer never has the Dark Lord of the Elves make an appearance, but we are told that a thousand years ago he was fought off by orcs and elves and humans. Since the Los Angeles depicted in Bright features rampant police abuse (“Everybody hates cops,” Smith’s daughter tells him before never appearing in Bright again), racism, sexism (Noomi Rapace has all of four lines), anti-Semitism, poverty, gang violence and prostitution, drug use and slavery, it is unclear that the Dark Lord did not, in fact, win a significant victory.
Smith and Edgerton spend the entire movie trying to protect a magic wand from its rightful owner, a powerful elf played by Ms. Rapace. The majority of the running time consists of running between two locations, as it was clear Netflix was intent on paying most of Bright’s $90m production budget to Will Smith. I can’t attack the wisdom of this move, since no other actor clicks so completely with the streaming service’s core audience, and Smith’s recent choices at the actual box-office have been wretched. Ayer does enough to make Bright feel like his other cop stories (End of Watch, Training Day). He is knowledgeable, at least, about how cops feel and think, and several scenes reflect this experience.
Like many of Ayer’s films, he tries to convince us of a variety of plot twists that only make sense in his mind. Unfortunately, this is also the execrable trend of the writer behind this project, and the pairing leads to a messy, unemotional result, which is probably one of two reasons why Bright received some seriously harsh reviews from critics. As bad as Bright was, there is something redeemable about the project that could probably be salvaged by another writer. Then again, you could say that about anything that does not involve Colin Trevorrow.
Ethan Peterson is the reviews editor of This Recording.