I read about one hundred pages of Max Brooks (son of Mel Brooks) novel on which this latest Brad Pitt film is based but was never really able to dig into it. I hoped to finish it before seeing the resulting film, but upon consistently hearing the movie would be nothing like the book and after witnessing the format and technique with which the book was constructed it was clear the only way to make a movie that strictly adhered to that same format would have been to make a documentary-like film. As it was clear this was not the route taken by director Marc Forster and producer/star Pitt I gave up on the book with optimistic thoughts of returning to it at some point. It was clear the main concept the film had taken away from the novel was the idea of a global crisis, but that displaying the crisis on a global scale through a leading man was more attractive than jumping from perspective to perspective with multiple characters. There is no problem with this approach except for the fact that the only thing the novel and the actual film share is the title. I can understand why this might have caused Brooks to speak negatively about the film, but even this isn't the worst thing this movie had going against it before its release. That would be the on-set tension between Forster and Pitt as well as the issues with the ending of the film. That there were $20 million worth of re-shoots done and last minute re-writes to the script would all point towards the final product being a complete mess. Turns out, we should have simply had faith in Pitt all along as World War Z turns out to be an extremely tense, well-paced action movie that doesn't solely depend on that action to give it a pulse. This is a smart, surprisingly well-thought out film that is up front about its zombie problem and deals with it in a way that is terrifying due to the fact it is likely how things would actually happen were there to be some kind of infection turning your friends, family and fellow citizens into undead sprinters that bite and move on with their victims becoming the same frightening zombies in a matter of seconds.

Karin Lane (Mireille Enos) and her husband Gerry (Brad Pitt) protect their two daughters from
the oncoming zombie invasion.
Whereas the book seems to have shaped the story of the fight against the zombie invasion through many different accounts from around the globe Forster and his multiple screenwriters have crafted a story around a  former United Nations investigator and taken cues from the Steven Spielberg version of War of the Worlds while allowing the one character they focus on to experience some of the greatest catastrophes that occur during this event. The first half hour of the film is unbelievably paced and is set up to provide some of the most tense moments you will experience during a movie this summer, possibly even the year. There is little in the way of exposition as to how this pandemic began or why, but instead we are immediately dropped into Gerry Lane's (Pitt) home where he has retired and is now relegated to making pancakes for his wife Karin (Mireille Enos) and their two daughters (Sterling Jerins and Abigail Hargrove). It is on their way to dropping the girls off at school in the opening minutes that all hell breaks loose. Philadelphia is literally consumed with these fast-paced zombies in a matter of seconds and Gerry is forced to protect his family while avoiding the threat that is all around him, taking in the specifics of what exactly is happening. The fact Gerry is a former UN employee is both a gift and a curse. They will send a helicopter to rescue he and his family, bringing them to an isolated military ship but in order to keep them there Gerry must go with a young scientist whom his former boss Thierry (Fana Mokoena) believes can find the origin of the zombie outbreak and therefore may be able to find a cure for it. Once Gerry leaves the safety of the naval base and begins globe trotting the movie takes on a more rapid pace with bigger amounts of action only to result in a quiet, understated final sequence that is as unexpected as it was satisfying. It is only in the standard montage that follows this final set-piece where you realize you aren't ready for the film to be over and that you need more from the conclusion. That is certainly a good problem to have, but it also left a void that wasn't completely satisfying.

I have always been a fan of Pitt's and especially in the last few years he has proved himself a serious actor with ambitions bigger than instant box office success, but instead the intention of leaving a legacy in the form of a great body of work. Even his bigger hits in recent years like Benjamin Button and Inglorious Basterds there is a certain pedigree that is inescapable and while World War Z was not originally intended as a summer blockbuster it has now and will forever be positioned that way. In this regard I was unsure of what to expect, would the zombie pandemic be some type of metaphor or serve as serious social commentary in the form of mainstream entertainment or would it simply be Pitt letting loose and having a bit of fun, giving himself a change of pace? The answer is a bit of both, but the throughline is Pitt's performance. While being as charismatic as the actor usually comes off he also does well to handle the immense pressure he is under and allows the audience a gateway into the story. The actor looks more rugged than ever, the bags under his eyes, the gray hair in his stubble and the unkempt look of his wardrobe with many shots focusing on his hands and their aged quality. It is clear why he is doing what he is doing and the film sets up nicely how much he loves his family and gives the character the motivation he needs to make it from country to country and keep up a determined search for the possible cure that might save not only he and his family, but those around him lucky enough to have survived thus far. The film also provides a kind of side-kick to Pitt's Gerry in the form of Segen (Daniella Kertesz) a soldier from Jerusalem whom Gerry saves once the zombies invade her city and who in turn will stand by his side for the remainder of the film. None of the actors are given anything of great opportunity to provide necessarily memorable performances, but the small elements in both Pitt and Kertesz's performances lend a humanity to this overblown, global tale. If the story was going to take on such scope it was important the characters the story is conveyed through be people we care about. I don't know that we would necessarily care for Gerry in the hands of a lesser actor, but with Pitt you can see every thought he has in the expressions on his face and while it may not mean much in the moment, it contributed to the overall effectiveness of the film hours later.

Gerry Lane, a former United Nations employee, finds himself on the front lines in World War Z.
The great part of this productions story (and there were of course many downsides) is that intelligence has not been sacrificed for cheap thrills. There are thrills, to be sure, but this isn't a zombie movie where all is concentrated on the blood and the gore or even the simple escapism to a safety zone that will serve as a happy ending. While I am not a huge fan of the genre (I never understood the fuss around George Romero's films though I can see how they were groundbreaking in his day) I did like Zack Snyder's 2004 Dawn of the Dead re-make and though the recent resurgence of the gorrific zombie tales in critically acclaimed shows like The Walking Dead are reason enough for movie studios to jump on the trend it was always going to be interesting to see how a studio who gave a budget north of $200 million and a PG-13 rating would please those who were in love with the genre and those looking for escapist summer entertainment with the same movie while making that gigantic budget back. In what was, for me, the most surprising aspect of the film is the use of that "less is more" idea to great effect. We've all seen zombie's get their heads chopped off and put through tons of different mutilations, but we hardly ever get the chance to see the reaction on the face of the person having to perform such gruesome acts. Here, the camera stays focused on those inflicting the pain while we can only imagine what is going on just out of the frame which tends to make it all the more chilling. Besides that, the overall tone the film gives off is one of pure exhilaration. I was hooked from the opening moments up through every tense sequence that takes place in multiple hallways and corridors to the sequences in large cities and on planes where the zombies (some expertly made up, others in less than impressive CGI) pile on top of one another in order to spread their disease and spread the end of humanity as quick as they possibly can. With such a fast-paced threat it is impossible for our protagonists to slow down and despite the climactic scene being expertly crafted the final minutes do a slight disservice to the rest of the film which was my only disappointment. I loved the film otherwise and would love to see more of this story unfold. Here's hoping the original plan to make this a trilogy is still in the cards for all involved.

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