It’s the indomitable law of the current media landscape: IP which may be rebooted, will be. From Star Wars: The Force Awakens to Netflix’s Fuller House, nostalgia reigns. Advertising is not immune to this impulse, and thus it is no surprise that BMW today is revisiting its most famous piece of marketing ever, 2001’s path-breaking series The Hire.
Today’s short is a one off continuation of the original 8 episode series, even bringing back its famous star, Clive Owen, to reprise his role as “The Driver”. Yesterday we revisited the original series in a retrospective post that delves deeper into these classics and I recommend you check out. However, for those unaware, it is difficult to overstate the impact of the original collection of films. Featured A-list directing talent like Wong Kar Wai, Ang Lee, and Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, the extravagantly budgeted short films were instant viral hits in the era before YouTube when we had little concept of what going viral even meant. The legendary project is largely credited with inventing an entire class of marketing, the Branded Film, and as such was honored with the very first Cannes Titanium Lion.
This installment is a back-to-basics re-introduction to the series and its core competencies. Director Neill Blomkamp, who was a film student at the time “The Hire” debuted, steps in as director, and Jon Bernthal, Dakota Fanning and Vera Farmiga fill out the cast around Owen. Fanning plays “5”, the product of illegal human biogenetic experimentation, and the lab in which she’s grown up in is in the process of being raided by the FBI. A private security firm tries to extricate Fanning before the Feds arrive, and Owen is the courier of choice. Can he escape the Feds? And for whom is he saving “5” for?
I had issues with the way the original series slowly deviated away from the quiet mysteriousness of Owen’s character towards more conventional action hero tropes and outlandish plots, and with The Escape, the creative team reverse course, keeps things lean and frills free. It has a macguffin, guns and cars—that’s about it. Ok, sure, let’s have a helicopter shoot-out too. Unfortunately though, it might be too stripped down, as I found it hard to connect to the film on an emotional or visceral level.
At the core of that malaise is Fanning’s character—she isn’t able to make much of an impact. Fanning is playing a fairly archetypal type: the weird, young ingenue who is special, but is unable to connect to people or the world. It’s not a terrible archetype, but it is poorly suited for shorts, because the whole appeal of this type is geared towards long term engagement. Audiences become habituated to the oddness slowly, only to experience catharsis in a moment of change—the ingenue lets someone in and overcomes past trauma by making a positive connection. Think of Summer in Firefly/Serenity. The Escape doesn’t get close to completing that arc at all. Owen’s performance is pared back to the character’s quiet, unflappable origins, and the connection between him and Fanning is entirely forced. The most interesting character by far is Bernthal’s villain.
Still, these films are not generally prized for their character work but for their action. I’m lukewarm on this aspect as well however. In some ways the action here is the most accomplished of the series—it is bigger, and the set piece with the helicopter is pretty cool. But, the driving is pretty straightforward, and Blomkamp’s direction feels generic. It’s fully polished, but it’s difficult to identify a point of view aside from the slickness, as he employs a standard mix of closeups, coverage shots, aerials and hand-held.
If more films were announced, I would cheer The Escape on as an accomplished reboot of the series, connecting again to its core appeal. But, all indications are that this is a one-off. In light of that, it’s hard to not be a little disappointed that after 14 years, the most famous short film series out there returns with such a bland outing.