Sunday 24 August 2014


Every Which Way But Lucy

2014 France
Directed by Luc Besson
UK Cinema release print.

Warning: There are some spoilers here but I’d be very surprised if you hadn’t already worked everything out just from the trailer, to be honest.

I’ve always held the films of Luc Besson in high regard. Ever since I first saw Subway on TV many decades ago and had a look at whatever other films he’d done at the time. I remember introducing my friends to his work... The Big Blue was a big hit with them. I also remember seeing Nikita on the weekend of its release at the Lumiere cinema in London and going back another four times because I was so blown away by it. Besson still wasn’t that well known in this country but for us he was one of the big stars of the directing scene back then.

Besson doesn’t direct as much as he used to. He produces some very exciting action films and keeps his hand in now and again so... the prospect of seeing a brand new movie directed by him and scored by his old collaborator, Eric Serra, was an exciting one.

Alas, I have to say that I really wasn’t as impressed as I hoped I would be. The film tends to take up the naivety of some of his later projects (The Fifth Element springs to mind) and throws it up in the screen in such a way that the innocence of the content almost feels offensive. I’ll get to that in a little while but, from what I can see, the high octane action film promised by the trailer delivers at a certain level but is full of disappointment... at least for this viewer. There are three very serious problems to it, at least to me, and I’ll address those right now.

Number one is the trailer itself.

It’s a great trailer, actually, promising a story of a girl, played beautifully by the always gorgeous Scarlett Johannson, who accidentally accelerates her brain power beyond the 10% humans are mythically supposed to use (I think that’s actually an error by current thinking) and this gives her special, evolutionary powers. She goes to give her knowledge to a professor studying such things played by Morgan Freeman and all kinds of action hijinks ensue. Freeman, of course, has already been in a film which similarly covers the high speed evolution of human kind earlier this year and you can find my review of that film, Transendence, right here.

Unfortunately, the trailer pretty much shows the entire essence of the movie as, like the film itself, it counts up to the point where Lucy gets in touch with 100% of her brain capacity, and it’s pretty obvious to see exactly what the ending of this movie is going to be... just from the trailer. In fact, my cousin in Australia, where it had an earlier cinematic release, saw it a few weeks ago and I told him how I thought it would end based on the trailer and he basically said I didn’t need to watch it now. So, yeah, if you’ve seen the trailer you can pretty much predict how it’s going to end.

However, figuring stuff like that out doesn’t put me off seeing a movie because it can still be darned entertaining and, to be honest, a lot of movies are so predictable these days.

And in some ways, the movie does live up to the trailer in terms of the brilliant action and the superb performances all round. Eric Serra’s score is another great work and exactly what you would expect from him for a movie like this... although unless you like downloads (and I don’t have enough room on my computer for downloads) it has to be said that the only place you can buy the score CD at time of writing this review is from France... although, when I ordered it from French Amazon yesterday, it seemed to be a lot cheaper than it would have cost to purchase it over here so it’s maybe worth going on there if you like the score to this movie. I always enjoy Serra’s scores to Besson’s films... even if I don’t always like the film.

There are other problems with this, though, which I found far more problematic.

I said about the movie being naive but, perhaps, childish may be a better word. What it really is, however, is damned patronising. I thought I was probably alone in feeling that the delivery of the plot points was condescending but it turns out my friend who saw the film with me was made even more angry about it. Basically, every time somebody seems to make the slightest plot point in this film, we directly cut to a visual metaphor of what they are talking about. Talk about being spoon fed. It’s like even the most simple plot point is capitalised, emboldened and underlined in red pen and the director seems to be taking this tack all the way through. It doesn’t take long for it to become a truly insufferable technique.

At least when a director like Nicholas Roeg cross cuts to a relevant visual, it’s not a straight demonstration of the point that’s already been made... in fact, with Roeg, you often have to work hard to establish what metaphor he is trying to make and what consequences the disclosure of the little flashes of information will have on his characters. But in Lucy it’s just like somebody drawing an illustration after the fact. It really does insult the intelligence of the audience to the point where it very quickly became a distracting tactic. Not a fan of this “beyond dumbed down” approach at all, I’m afraid. It’s not like the central concept of the movie is in any way challenging so this really is just too much decoration of the cake, so to speak. So it would be safe to say that the editing style really grated with my mindset throughout the entire running time.

My final problem with the movie was in the ability, or lack of, in making me worry about the final fate of the characters. There’s no suspense there, partially because it’s pretty obvious what is going to happen to Lucy at the end of the movie but, mostly because Besson makes a mistake which has been the bane of some comic book writers for years. When you have a character who’s pretty much omnipotent, like Superman for example, you don’t worry about him being in peril and, therefore, don’t really care about what or who he goes up against in the course of a story. You know he’s going to be fine by the end of it. This is why the writers have to invent clauses to their original character set ups, such as Kryptonite, to have something which they can then bring in to put the hero under actual jeopardy. In Lucy, Besson makes the mistake of having a character who becomes completely able to handle herself and pretty much any situation within the space of the first half of the movie.

Consequently, when Lucy is facing down loads of mobsters and getting into car chases and gun fights, you have no worries that her life is in any way in peril. And so, of course, you don’t care what the writers throw at her... you know she’s going to be able to handle it without even trying. And so the film lacks a certain amount of suspense needed to give the action sequences the edge they really needed. This is not an easy problem to solve but I’m sure they could have had a stab which would have made sense within the confines of the story set-up if they’d have given it a try.

And so, my final thoughts on Lucy are that, while it is a pretty slick entertainment with good performances all around, excellent music and an interesting concept to play around with, the maddening, patronising execution of said concept is quite jarring and you will find yourself seething with anger and popping out of the spell of the movie at certain points throughout, I suspect. Not my favourite Besson by a long chalk but it certainly tries hard (perhaps too hard) to give us something we’ve not quite seen before in this particular wrapping paper and I just wish I could recommend it more. However, all this is swept aside when it’s got Scarlett Johansson shooting people and causing carnage... so if you are happy with that kind of level, then maybe go for it.


  1. Interesting review - concur it has a few issues. I enjoyed the film - I'd describe it as energetic, fun and absurd in equal measure. My take on the intercut splices of natural wildlife footage was a link to the academic presentation Freeman was (initially) giving - they appeared comedic, and perhaps slightly clumsy. This odd mix of comedic film sampling and splicing into a film which (for instance) used attempted rape and "Kill Bill" levels of (quasi-comedic) violence serving as good examples of why the film had such a strangely uneven and hard-to-read emotional key for me. The other issue which slightly bugged me was why Lucy, with all her omnipotence was not minded or concerned to limit the heavy body count of good guys and damage to the venerable academic establishment in which the movie climaxes - but perhaps I'm taking it too seriously!
    Reminded me a little of Tree of Life (the weird time-travel). Good Fun, if a little clumsy in realisation of an interesting idea...

    1. Hi Jez,

      Thanks so much for taking the time to read.

      Yeah, you raise some interesting points. I think it's ulitimately not as well conceived as it could have been but it's the dumbing down of the whole thing to the lowest common denominator which most grated with me. Besson doesn't need to do that stuff.

      Not seen Tree Of Life so shall add it to the list.

      Again, thanks for reading and especially thanks for taking the time to comment.