Schwarzenegger, Breslin Strive to Bring Life to “Maggie”

Schwarzenegger, Breslin Strive to Bring Life to “Maggie”

Since giving up on California politics, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s return to the big screen has failed to generate the sort of box office success his earlier work had.  Cameos in Sylvester Stallone’s geriatric action franchise The Expendables and features such as The Last Stand and Escape Plan failed to break any new ground where his persona was concerned.  So, before returning to The Terminator franchise for a huge paycheck and what is as close to a sure thing at the box office as possible, the actor made a low-budget horror film for which he took no salary but served as one of its producers. 

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The result, Maggie, is a bit of departure for Schwarzenegger, the sort of film that no major studio would have touched as the actor does not assume the role of the capable man of action he normally does, but rather that of a concerned father who must face each parent’s worst nightmare when one of his children is afflicted with a terminal disease.  In this case, the malady is necroambulism – a fancy way of saying the afflicted it turning into a zombie – and Maggie (Abigail Breslin), Wade’s (Schwarzenegger) oldest is the victim in question.  Having been infected while away from home, the young woman is starting to show the effects of the disease as infected parts of her body – marked by sections of rapidly decaying flesh, embroidered by angry, black web-like markings – are becoming more numerous.  Wade is told that there is no cure for this condition and before it runs its course, his daughter’s eyes will cloud over, she’ll lose her appetite, her sense of smell will grow more acute and ultimately she will become more aggressive and begin to eat other’s flesh.  There is no cure to this and Wade is told that best he can do is make his daughter comfortable as it takes its toll.

The film smacks of the sort of disease-of-the-week plot that would propel movies-of-the-week that once were fodder for network television stations.  We and Wade are subjected to a long, inexorable death watch in which difficult moral choices must be made and the strength of each person’s faith is called into question.  (Wade’s wife and Maggie’s stepmom Caroline (Joely Richardson) flies the coop when the going gets too tough). Equally agonizing are the attempts at normalcy the characters undertake, a form of denial that seems particularly cruel.  Perhaps the most poignant scene in the movie takes place between Maggie and an old flame of hers in which they share an awkward kiss, knowing full well that they’ll never fully experience the sort of emotional or physical intimacy that so many take for granted. 

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Little in the way of drama is generated in the film as director Henry Hobson is much more concerned with creating the sense of oppressive dread and inescapable doom that permeates it.  Images we’ve come to expect in movies of this sort – shots of smoldering cities, hundreds of abandoned cars and crops being burned – are all rendered with appropriately overcast skies and dour lighting. However, there’s no denying that Hobson has a good eye, giving common moments a deeper and more poignant meaning.  Wade and Maggie are able to laugh over a terrible meal at the family dinner table, while a small scene – the most striking in the film - in which the afflicted woman soars towards the sky on an old rusty swing set left over from her youth, beautifully underscores the character’s lost youth and never-to-be-seen future. 

Schwarzenegger is very good here, giving us a man who’s doing his best to put forth a calm, optimistic face while dealing with the fear and grief that’s roiling beneath.  The stillness that is part and parcel of his screen persona is put to good use, as Wade finds himself stuck, unable to act or move in a way that will save his daughter, fearing the inevitable decision he’ll be forced to make once she reaches the point of no return.  Here’s hoping he’ll find a few more simple dramatic roles such as this to see how far he can stretch himself.  Breslin holds her own, which is no surprise as she’s grown up before our eyes, having become an old pro at the age of 20.  She never overplays her part –which would have been easy to do what with what Maggie goes through – and the chemistry between her and Schwarzenegger has a ring of truth about it.

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In the end though, despite the good work by the two principals, Maggie is brought down because it is too self-consciously serious. The pace with which Hobson tells this story is far too slow, as if by dwelling on its inherent tragedy he’s somehow making it more important and heartbreaking than it actually is.  It becomes so ponderous that he may have some viewers hoping for the inevitable just so the film can come to an end.  Still, there’s no denying that the two leads put their all into the story, nearly salvaging it, while the unexpected ending is far more moving than it has a right to be.

 

Maggie can be seen through various Video-on-Demand services. 

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