REVIEW: Strong Themes Can't Overcome TV Feel of 'Jonah Hex'

“Eventually a man’s got to decide if he wants to do what’s right. That choice cost me more than I bargained for.” So says Jonah Hex (Josh Brolin), title character in Warner Bros.’ DC Comics adaption of “Jonah Hex.”

Jonah Hex

This dark, cliché quote reflects the film. Hex was a Confederate soldier, not because he believed in slavery but because he opposes government control. While serving, Quentin Turnbull (John Malkovich) – the father of his best friend – orders him to burn a hospital filled with women and children to the ground. He refuses. This event disillusions him from the Confederate cause, and in his ensuing side-switch, he kills his friend. The vengeful Turnbull tracks Jonah down and forces him to watch as he murders his family, then brands his face so he won’t forget. Jonah swears vengeance. When Turnbull dies in a fire he thinks he has it – until he hears from President Ulysses S. Grant that Turnbull is still alive, and plans to terrorize the country during its bicentennial celebration. Grant begs Jonah to find Turnbull and stop him before it’s too late – a request Jonah is only too happy to oblige.

As a comic book adaptation, the beginning of the film plays out episodically like the beginning of a TV show, with cartoon images showing the transition in Jonah’s life from a soldier to a man whose near-death experience gave him the power to talk to dead people.

The other TV-type element is the film’s length. Running between 70 and 80 minutes, it feels like just another adventure in the life of a well-established protagonist.

While short, at least there’s no needless dialogue. There’s not much character development either, but let’s face it, character development isn’t exactly the strong suit of “Jonah Hex” writers Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor, the minds behind the “Crank” movies.

Brolin and Malkovich are both strong as hero and villain respectively. Brolin’s Jonah is a witty brute with a strong sense of justice regardless. When a sheriff and mayor try to swindle him out of reward money he earned for killing local outlaws, he cuts them down without regard for their status. Criminals are criminals. As he says, the man was a sheriff, but he wasn’t a law man.

He is also a loner, who trusts no one but himself and Megan Fox’s Lilah. And though the Civil War is over, and in the end he fought for the Union, he still sports his Confederate hat – a symbol of his uncompromising views on personal liberty.

Malkovich’s Turnbolt is a refined, but brutal, southerner. He and his men target hospitals and towns, not military outposts. The Mexicans call him “terrorista,” and his tactics are familiar. He strikes fear into people so they don’t trust the government’s ability to protect them – a strategy effectively used by terrorists in Baghdad before the Surge restored order and gave Iraqis safety once again. This documentary by the Institute for the Study of War clearly illustrates the tactic.

Megan Fox as Lilah, is barely in the film. When she is, talks in a monotone.

There was also a commentary on the atomic bomb. In the film’s back story, Eli Whitney, creator of the cotton gin, was hired by the U.S. Government to create a “nation killer” weapon, which, once the government realized its true power, never created because it “couldn’t forsee using such a devastating weapon.” After the designs fall into his hands, it’s Turnbolt’s weapon of choice.

Though a dark film, it doesn’t restrict the use of color. Grass is vibrantly green, the sand a strong brick red. Some scenes have a “300” vibe to them. But there’s a lot of night-time action that is difficult to see because of quick cuts.

In the end, “Jonah Hex” isn’t terrible, but the dark hellish undertones combined with its length don’t justify a theater viewing. If you’ve seen the preview, you’ve seen most of Megan Fox’s scenes, so just watch that and you should be good to go.


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