We are not at all surprised that the role of “Mayor of Kingstown” took the Academy Award for Best Screenplay last year. The job of being Kingstown mayor doesn’t require that much in the way of derring-do. The name of the town in the war epic was one more traffic-sign nonsense than we expect a rising star to be too
And yet, after the London premiere of Wing Commander, many of us felt a twinge of unease. The principal character in this film – though a very proficient soldier – is a reluctant pilot who goes off to the war on good terms with a Communist ally. During that war, the plane the mayor flew went down in a horrible accident, killing all of its crew. Our suspicions were confirmed when we later saw a scene showing soldiers helping a Chinese farmer. Was Kingstown just another self-congratulatory blockbuster?
Maximilian Schell, the Swiss actor who plays the Communist commander, stressed that even the dead had not gone unnoticed. The the blood spilled on the plane by the Chinese lost in the crash was conspicuously never seen or mentioned by the film’s art director, or by anyone else, except Maximilian. This, Maximilian insisted, was not deliberate, and certainly not intended by the writers. Stephen J. Downes’ script merely sought to show that even while flying, the mayor was clearly disturbed by the loss of his crew. Unfortunately, this aspect was rather lost in Wing Commander’s snappy, overlapping plot line and the notion that Wing Commander was written entirely by a 10-year-old called Jeremy Renner. In fairness, Jeremy may not really be 10, but in fairness, Steven Spielberg probably wasn’t either. This film was surely too ambitious to have been written primarily by a child.
Nick Cassevetes, the man who directed Wing Commander, may not have been old enough to vote but no one has ever accused him of staying in his own corner of the cinema.
It was he who contacted Stephen J. Downes, with whom he’s written the screenplays for Robin Hood, The Army of Darkness and Hannibal. For those who have not seen JWOD, here’s the premise: Michael Wise (James McAvoy) lives next door to a priest (Bruce Campbell), whose belief in absolutes and an unwavering passion for justice have brought him unwanted fame. Wise, who thinks that he can control chaos, spends most of his days wishing that he didn’t have to deal with this mass of uncivilised unwashed. In the meantime, his neighbour has gone mad and has rebuilt his home-front ministry around him. Ultimately, JWOD is about a clergyman walking a moral tightrope, facing temptation and being on the defensive. It’s not violent or gory, and it’s definitely not about sandals. Based on a novel by JWOD, and as witty, inventive and entertaining as a Stephen King production, this is a touching, engaging and funny film. Among the special effects, the big reveal of the little boys not in the back of the trucks is the moment that will stick in your mind and perhaps make you ponder the morality of your own attitude to young children. Perhaps the best thing about Wing Commander was that it reminded us that if you’re not the only one who remembers being 15, probably it’s time to call it a day. If not, then Steven Spielberg’s movie should help. We did feel for Jeremy Renner – who seems rather desperate for attention, after having none when he was a child – because he’s being made to suffer a ton of inferiority-complex. But as anyone who’s had a large meal cooked by a chef can testify, when he has the job, you have to pretty quickly learn to shrug.