Jonah Hex

Aug 13 2014 | 05:30 AM

    Jonah Hex

    Directed by Jimmy Hayward

    Runtime: 80 min.

    Entrusted to direct the Jonah Hex screenplay by groundbreaking team Neveldine & Taylor, director Jimmy Hayward brings to it the visual craft and genre savvy he learned as an animator on Toy Story and Toy Story 2 and as a writer and sequence-director on the animated feature Robots. So, although Jonah Hex doesn’t effervesce like Neveldine & Taylor’s own avant-garde innovations, Crank and Crank: High Voltage, Hayward yet makes it pell-mell; it’s still got N&T’s anarchic spirit. That alone makes Jonah Hex the best movie to open this week—easily overshadowing Toy Story 3. 

    It’s a great coincidence that Toy Story 3 opens as Hayward graduates to N&T’s adult fantasy. He uses the tale of a Confederate soldier-turned-bounty-hunter, Jonah Hex (Josh Brolin), who defies North and South allegiance, to address political and moral responsibility that Toy Story 3 trivializes. Seeking to avenge his wife and son’s murder by Confederate madman Quentin Turnbull (John Malkovich, a perverse John Brown), Jonah’s post-Civil War adventure parallels contemporary malaise. N&T adapt the 1975 DC comic book to fit their timely sense of disquiet and cultural confusion—that post 9/11 dread that Bruce Springsteen aptly described as “a fairy tale so tragic.”  

    Jonah Hex does for the western what the Crank movies do for the urban action film; simultaneously commenting on genre practice. (Film scholars should explore the coincidence of this villain’s initials and how he viciously brands Q.T. into the side of Jonah’s face, eternally scarring his identity.) It reexamines assumptions of good and evil—morality tale vs, trite entertainment—by confronting the hideous compromises people make with social conventions and their own desperation. Jonah is haunted (hexed) after Turnbull’s dastardly act forces him to see death. Indians who rescue him empower his ravaged soul with the ability to talk to the dead and he uses that gift when President U.S. Grant (Aiden Quinn) calls on him to stop Turnbull’s terrorist assault on post-bellum America. This takes Jonah beyond simplistic patriotism, which he’s already rejected yet the non-cynical quest brings him toward unsentimental resurrection.  

    Like Orpheus in the underworld, Jonah suffers knowledge of anguished life and the threat of mortality. And like the hero of Crank, Jonah fights to stay alive. Hayward’s action scenes depict a terrorist environment way past Pixar-kiddieland. Bombs, flames, explosions carry 9/11 force, replete with hellhound and ravens—creatures whose myths help vanquish anxiety—all to a pounding score that re-routes death metal back to cathartic affirmation. A retaliation scene that ends with ash and cinders is stringent enough to obliterate despair—almost as powerfully as De Palma’s The Fury climax. 

    Without a $50 million ad budget to make Jonah Hex seem important, the media feels free to trash it—doing so exposes their collusion with marketing and refusal to read film for personal reflection. True art is watching hot-chick Megan Fox (as Lilah the hooker) fearlessly staring at the most grotesque side of Jonah’s face as if coming to grips with her own exploitation. Beautiful and brilliant. I previously remarked how "Neveldine-Taylor stand so lonely on the culture’s edge that their au courant ingenuity seems absolutely avant-garde when compared to standard box-office formula." Greed is a cultural hex.