Review of Jonah Hex

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A post-Civil War Western film based loosely on the DC Comics character of the same name, "Jonah Hex" chronicles the adventures of a Wild West bounty hunter whose horrifically scarred face and personality hide his honorable nature. Josh Brolin plays the title character while John Malkovich, Michael Fassbender, and Megan Fox also star.
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Movie Review: "Jonah Hex"

-- Rating: PG-13
Length: 86 minutes
Release Date: June 18, 2010
Directed by: Jimmy Hayward
Genre: Action/Drama/Fantasy

"Jonah Hex" fails to live up to the legendary character of the DC comic antihero on which it is based but still provides a fun, if gritty, romp through a fictional post-Civil War America.

The movie revolves around the story of the DC comic antihero of the same name. Jonah Hex (Josh Brolin) betrays his commanding officer, Quentin Turnbull (John Malkovich), to avoid committing a war crime, and he kills Turnbull's son in the process. Turnbull enlists the aid of his most deviant officer, Burke (Michael Fassbender), in punishing Hex's family for his misdeed, horribly disfiguring the hero in the process. Hex dies and is revived in part by Native American spiritual healers, granting him the ability to speak with the dead.

Hex has never been a very likable character, but his morals and sense of honor save him time and again in the comic series. On screen, Brolin's performance often feels forced. It's as if the actor is unsure whether he should be burning with a thirst for revenge or is more of a dispassionate zombie. Brolin imparts the general feel of the character well and looks the part, but he struggles to portray the tortured emotions of the antihero.

The overall plot of the film is a fantastic romp through a world ravaged by war. The scars of the Civil War weigh heavily on every character, from Jonah Hex's prostitute lover named Lilah (Megan Fox) to every citizen and sheriff in the film's many small towns. Hex and Turnbull do battle both in person and through pawns at key locations familiar to most fans of Civil War history. The decks of ironsides and the bellies of monitor-class early submersibles become a battleground for the two characters. Classic Civil War landscapes emerge throughout the movie and fade quickly into the background to be replaced by ever more grand adventures.

Hex works, in part due to the orders of President Grant (Aidan Quinn), to stop Turnbull's acquisition of a weapon of mass destruction. This provides an excellent chance to explore the character and his relationship with the world around him. Fox comes to shine in these moments, portraying Lilah with far more passion and elegance than ever seen from Brolin, and Fassbender's portrayal of the sadistic Burke makes the film's climax all the more memorable.
The film may have scored a higher rating had the writers avoided the obvious use of deux ex machina. While Hex may have been resurrected once by Native American healers, the use of this power multiple times in a single adventure threatens to destroy the film's suspension of disbelief. Hex and Turnbull both escape harrowing situations through little more than intervention by the writer, likely leaving a bad taste in the mouth of movie-goers with an eye for plot holes. It almost seems to make Hex immortal as long as there's a shaman around, ruining some of the dramatic tension of the film. The drawback of Hex's supernatural power, that it causes corpses to become consumed by fire when used, only occasionally touches the plot at all and doesn't seem to manifest in any visible way to onlookers. This makes the weakness of the power almost an afterthought and not a tragic concern of Hex or his employers.

The film's direction is spot-on. Jimmy Hayward captures many scenes in a manner that could have been storyboarded directly from the comic books, and even those who have never read a comic book can recognize allure of the gritty, close camera angles that make the film shine. Jonah Hex rides in on a dark horse and befriends those who are truly downtrodden, and every shot makes you feel that the character is a man worthy of respect and sympathy. The bulk of the film seems as if it were shot through a lens clouded with the dirt of the land, and that works very well for this type of picture.

The movie's pacing owes a lot to the directorial skill of Hayward. The film moves quickly through the opening sequences, and the war finishes quickly only to thrust the life of a bounty hunter with his own cost on his head upon the hero. Sluggish transitions between events occasionally slow the momentum, but it picks the pace back up whenever action begins to take over and dramatic dialogues end.

"Jonah Hex" may get bogged down from time to time by zombie-like delivery but provides enough of a show to be a worthy movie for a night out or home rental.

Rating: 3 out of 5