REVIEW: Knight and Day [2010]

Score: 7/10 | ★ ★ ★

Rating: PG-13 | Runtime: 109 minutes | Release Date: June 23rd, 2010 (USA)
Studio: Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
Director(s): James Mangold
Writer(s): Patrick O’Neill

“Your timing to open that door was sublime”

Maybe Tom Cruise has the right idea changing gears into comedic fare. Ever since the brilliant cameo in Tropic Thunder, his want to branch out has been obvious—although the Les Grossman film is a scary thought in my mind—but until seeing Knight and Day, I had my doubts he could pull it off. Cruise has always had the capacity to deliver lines with humor, but here he does so without fail from start to finish. I think the fact it’s an action/comedy helps the transition by keeping the badass Ethan Hunt-type character intact while giving him the range to goof off. The moments of total calm and collective demeanor in the face of danger make the lines even funnier by subverting the usual deflection and lies for great exchanges like, “you stay here while I talk to the men in the tunnel … well, really I’m going to shoot them”. Serious, conscious self-parody worked for Pierce Brosnan in The Matador and it works here for Cruise. I for one wouldn’t mind seeing his career veer into a more varied trajectory as well, mixing the dramas and actioners with comedy and whatever else comes along.

James Mangold has had quite the diverse resume and with his latest seems to have embraced the flair for explosions and big budgets after a competent remake of 3:10 to Yuma. Knight and Day contains pretty much everything you’d want to see in a summer blockbuster—espionage, tons of choreographed mayhem, hysterical quips, a little romance, and a little covert maneuvering. It really is a shame that the box office take was so paltry; blame it on the non-descript poster (as many insiders are) or the fact Cruise and Cameron Diaz have seen their stars fade drastically over the past decade, either way it was undeserved. Right from the start we can infer on the fun, light mood with Cruise using his natural charisma as Roy Miller, working Diaz’s June Havens as a pawn to make a clean getaway from the spy team he has just stolen a perpetual energy machine and its creator from. A master at playing both sides, showing interest and kindness with an obviously interested and attracted woman as well as the professionalism and cunning of a spy sizing up his enemies watching, he juggles dueling interests in the airplane setting, showing his might and flair for honesty—no matter how unbelievably humorous it is.

The consummate good guy, Miller has gone rogue from the agency, (led by Viola Davis’s Director George), if only to stop his ex-partner’s own supposed allegiance change (Peter Sarsgaard’s Fitzgerald). We are led along on the chase as Miller attempts to reacquire the wunderkind Simon Fleck (Paul Dano as a crazed genius and his own chance at fun while usually playing dark, introspective roles) from his hiding place and also do his best to protect June, a woman who has unsuspectingly become embroiled in the affair, at risk for her own life as the government suspects involvement. The duo goes on the lamb and tries to stay off the grid while both the agency and Spanish weapons dealers are hot on their trail. But while he tells his side of the story to June, Davis and Sarsgaard deliver their version with more bells and whistles, calling into question exactly what Miller is up to and who the good guys are. We can want Cruise to be the hero, but have to realize the fact he could be the one putting everyone in danger.

Never giving way to fear, Cruise’s character truly has been stripped of emotional attachments from his previous life, becoming a robotic killing machine willing to do whatever it takes to finish a mission without regard for his own life. If a rolling SUV is fast approaching his head as he dangles from the roof of a fast moving car, he never shows anything but a calm demeanor of acceptance—either of an impending death or a miraculous second chance. Because of this, the matter-of-fact dialogue screenwriter Patrick O’Neill places in his mouth is fantastic. There’s nothing like a near death experience to make way for a broad smile and the compliment, “beautiful dress by the way” to his companion. Diaz is pretty great as the damsel in distress too, hyperventilating and getting worried while still somehow competently staying in control to drive a car from the backseat and have the wherewithal to punch assassins in the face when her protector is knocked unconscious. She has some hidden moves too and, as the film moves along, a desire to get a little dirty if it means staying alive.

As for the filmmakers, they manufacture an ingenious jump cut device to progress the plot and keep budget costs down. Don’t get me wrong, the action scenes are top-notch—between a one man against six fight inside a flying airplane, an automatic weapon barrage in a warehouse, or two high-octane car pursuits, you won’t be left bored. However, when you’d be expecting to watch risky escapes, the film decides to put the action in the point of view of Diaz, drugged and semi-conscious. All we catch are glimpses when her blurred vision comes back in spurts, laughing as she sees Cruise dangling upside-down and tortured saying they’ll be out in a couple minutes, or as she wakes to a crashing aircraft and parachute jump, or any other dangers he can get her out of without her penchant for shock and fear getting in the way. One might say it’s lazy, but I think it’s more a well-calculated move to add another comedic aspect to the mix, showing you just enough to whet your appetite, but pulling away so your anticipation stays high when they do decide to show the action. You don’t want it to just be another run-of-the-mill brainless romp, the romance and comedy matter and the drugging is crucial to the central dynamic—and fodder for a nice reversal at the end.

[1] Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz star in the action-comedy-romance KNIGHT AND DAY. Photo credit: Frank Masi
[2] Roy (Tom Cruise) and June (Cameron Diaz) prepare for the ride of their lives, as they flee pursuing assassins – and bulls – through the streets of Seville, Spain. Photo credit: Frank Masi
Copyright © Twentieth Century Fox
[3] Cameron Diaz stars as June Havens and Tom Cruise stars as Milner in 20th Century Fox’s Knight & Day (2010)

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