I grew up watching Arnold Schwarzenegger kick ass and take names. Commando, Running Man, Terminator 2, Raw Deal or Red Heat. You name it and I probably saw it six times. He was the king of “Say little and Shoot Often”. He was rarely asked to act and that was a good thing. Action stars are built on presence and stature along with the ability to convince us they can truly destroy things. If a chef in a kitchen is cooking them up, he’s using 2-3 spices instead of five. More one liners than monologues.
For his latest flick, the heartfelt nerve touching zombie flick Maggie, Arnold finally gets to act a little and it’s about time. He’s 67 years old, looks weathered in the face, and didn’t have any work done to his body or face in the last 40 years. What you see is what you get, and Arnold was the perfect choice to play Wade Vogel, a man facing the worst decision of all time. His daughter, Maggie(Abigail Breslin, wonderfully cast to tango with the big Austrian) is infected and is slowly decaying. Instead of letting her be taken into quarantine and live a tortured last set of days before being executed, Wade keeps her at home so he can “take care” of her himself when the time is right.
In this film, the actual word “zombie” is never used once and frankly, it’s not needed. We know what’s going on. Someone is bit and they slowly change into something else. Director Henry Hobson, working from a genuine simplistic piece of goodness in John Scott 3’s script, doesn’t need to turn this into The Terminator Meets The Walking Dead. He wants to go in the other direction and uses a slow burning tactic. Once bitten, the victims don’t change in minutes or overnight. It takes days, hence the need to quarantine them.
There are few references to the outside world and that’s a good thing because the story needs to isolated in order to make an impact on the viewer. Most of the action takes place on Wade’s farm with Maggie, Wade’s new girlfriend and her daughter. Maggie’s mother is dead, and it was Wade’s promise to always look after their daughter. While I am sure “If she got infected and was slowly turning into a flesh eating monster” wasn’t covered in that chat, Wade feels it is his duty to stand by his pledge. What happens in this flick will get to you because it’s extremely well done.
Maggie is the kind of film that is proudly independent, shot with a ton of early morning grays and dimly lit nights. Lukas Ettlin’s cinematography is tremendous and merges well with David Wingo’s score. Wingo composed the music for Matthew McConaughey’s Mud as well and his light usage of piano and guitar strings are perfect for this story. Nothing in this film is overdone or pushed too hard. The pacing of the film is solid and the running time(95 minutes) never feels like a complete bore nor does it overwhelm. It’s a very human and relatable story.
The main attraction here is Arnold. As Ettlin recently said in an interview, “How cool is it to have Arnold Schwarzenegger in an arthouse film?” and he couldn’t be more astute with that observation. Arnold fits Wade to a tee, right down to the comb over, plaid clothing and thin beard to go with a weary step. Wade is walking on eggshells the entire film and Arnold doesn’t need a lot of dialogue to make you feel the dilemma the elder man is trapped in. The woman in his life(Joely Richardson) is trying to tell him what to do but only he knows what lies ahead.
Sure, there are a few scenes where the big guy grabs a shotgun or an ax and the action fan inside me got excited, but this is a drama and most of the action is boiler plate foreplay for sadness later. A scene between Breslin and Bryce Romero(playing her boyfriend Trent) is bittersweet and brilliantly acted out by the two young thespians. Imagine if you were in love but knew there was a timer on your life?
Hobson and Scott 3 never forget those kind of details and it makes the entire film poignant and linger long after you leave the room. Maggie knows exactly what it is, and that is important. A film has to know its heart and soul as much as a human being does, because it makes the ability to connect that much easier for a film with a short running time. It also doesn’t end with the expected bang or big moment. The ending is as assured as the opening scene.
Maggie deserves your time, money and a conversation afterwards. It may even desire a revisiting. Instead of watching overcooked disaster flicks like San Andreas or underwhelming romance stories like Aloha, donate a few dollars and an evening to Maggie, which aims to be something different and succeeds on a big level.
Most of all, see it so you can tell your son or a friend that you got to see Arnold Schwarzenegger actually act and do it well. That’s worth the price of admission alone.