REVIEWED: KNIGHT AND DAY
August 16, 2010 Leave a comment
2010 has been a year especially fraught with rom-com stinker after rom-com stinker, and when guns have been thrown into the mix, it has only seemed to make things worse – i.e. the dreadful Killers. Knight and Day, which plays like a turbo-charged, technologically advanced Hitchcock film, is a surprisingly potent mix of romance and carnage, milking its expensive and beauteous co-stars for all they’re worth.
Within moments of the lights going down, Roy Miller (Tom Cruise) bumps into June Havens (Cameron Diaz) in an airport. They don’t know each other – yet – but they realise they’re on the same flight, and so quickly become well-acquainted through a combination of mutual attraction and, well, gunfire. After takeoff, June returns from the airplane bathroom to find that Miller has disposed of everyone on the plane, including the pilots. He claims to be a secret agent being framed up by the FBI, while shady bureau G-Man Agent Fitzgerald (Peter Saarsgard) pursues him. Caught between the two, June must decide whether Miller is telling the truth or, as Fitzgerald claims, he has had a full-blown, Vanilla Sky-esque break with reality.
Director James Mangold is aware at seemingly all times that his big-budget spy pic is thoroughly ludicrous, perhaps even hokey. However, given his previous triumphs – immaculate Johnny Cash biopic Walk the Line, and stellar western remake 3:10 to Yuma – it is clear that Mangold is a man well-versed in genre, and he knows how to make them work. In the action/adventure/rom-com subset, he finds himself another, albeit lesser, success in Knight and Day.
Day succeeds for two chief reasons – casting and pacing. Cruise and Diaz are an exceptionally matched pair, rallying dialogue off of one another like players on centre court, anticipating each other’s moves and performing in a wonderfully symbiotic synchronicity. Such is the strength of this partnership that the film’s slight demeanour isn’t only irrelevant, yet something of a cause for celebration. The mystery plot, though fairly involved, isn’t given a touch as much consideration as the myriad ways in which to generate sexual tension between the leads and, of course, the requisite means of blowing lots of stuff up.
From that early moment when Cruise begins incapacitating various agents on his plane, Knight and Day speeds off and never really stops for respite. The action is slick, fast-paced and gorgeously shot by Mangold, and while, yes, there is a lot of CGI here, there’s also plenty of organic stunt work, achieving a good balance between the two. In a sandwich structure of action-exposition-action, you certainly won’t be bored.
One oddity abounds, though; for a light, 12A-rated romantic comedy adventure film, the action is oddly, sometimes alienatingly brutal. Cruise slams assailants’ heads into overhead baggage compartments with sharp force, a resounding, reverberating thud emanating as a result. Though a lot of the action is silly, the close-combat stuff has a Bourne-like authenticity to it that is quite vexing and possibly too eschewed for audiences expecting the bloodless, amoral violence of a cartoon. One particular scene, in which a baddie is stabbed through the chest with a knife before pulling it out, as Diaz screams, “Why won’t you die!?”, is oddly, darkly comic in a film most often filled with agreeably broad, witty banter-based jibes.
Still, there’s an irresistible confidence to the whole thing; the plot may as well be a Macguffin that conveniently shows up as a segue for the explosions and sexiness. Diaz – safe for her career-making entrance scene in The Mask – has never looked better than in her red bikini here, while Cruise evidently hasn’t let himself go either. It is refreshing to find cheeky sexual wordplay that actually works in a sea of The Bounty Hunters and The Back Up Plans, and Knight and Day certainly cannot be faulted in that esteem. The narrative is slight and dappy, but it is as it needs to be; everyone on-board is on the same page, resulting in a snappy, unpretentious thrill-ride that’s tailor-made for Summer audiences.