Friday, January 10, 2014

Once is a fluke, twice is a pattern

When I saw that Kenneth Branagh was directing 2011's Thor, I thought it was just an odd enough selection to work. I was a bit tickled by the whimsy of it.

Now that I see that he's directing Jack Ryan: Ghost Protocol -- I mean, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit -- it only leaves me depressed.

Once the shining example of a director who could forge his own career and make only the movies he wanted to make, Branagh has had to come back to the pack. There's just no longer enough work for people who want to make Shakespeare adaptations -- a sad commentary on the state of cinema today.

The Shakespeare adaptation is not dead -- not entirely, anyway. Twenty thirteen saw Joss Whedon direct a modern-day adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing, and a Julian Fellowes-scripted version of Romeo & Juliet, starring Hailee Steinfeld, had a limited release this fall. (Though I only heard about it in the context of it being bad, so apparently the artistic freedoms taken with Shakespeare's language by the creator of Downton Abbey were not good ones.)

As far as Branagh is concerned, though, Shakespeare is in the rear view mirror. His next film is next year's Cinderella, which seems like another step in the director-for-hire direction of his career.

It may have been Branagh's choice to walk away from Shakespeare -- after a bit of googling I haven't found a definitive comment from him on the matter -- but a four-year directing layoff suggests otherwise. He directed an adaptation of As You Like It in 2006, but after 2007's Sleuth, he didn't direct again until Thor. That suggests a period of reevaluation and perhaps forced adaptation to the prevailing conditions of the marketplace.

The budgets of the films Branagh is being given to direct suggest that studios still have a lot of confidence in him, so that's good. Thor was a success, and though it's not a great sign that Paramount made Jack Ryan a January 2014 release instead of a holiday season 2013 release, it appears as though the move was designed to help the studio's other holiday release, The Wolf of Wall Street. Jack Ryan has the ingredients to be good.

Still, I can't help but see this as a bit of a failure for the 53-year-old actor/director. It's like having final cut on a movie and then losing it, and then never getting it back again.

Or maybe Branagh is going the Francis Ford Coppola route -- piling up a bunch of dumb directing gigs in order to finance one of his pet projects.

Maybe if 2017 has in store an adaption of The Merchant of Venice featuring gay robots in space, Kenneth Branagh will have the last laugh.

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