Film review of the disaster drama about a series of devastating earthquakes along the San Andreas fault line starring Dwayne Johnson, Carla Gugino and directed by Brad Peyton.
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Director: Brad Peyton. Warner Bros./Village Roadshow et al. (12a)
Cast & credits
Producer: Beau Flynn.
Writer: Carlton Cuse.
Camera: Steve Yedlin.
Music: Andrew Lockington.
Sets: Barry Chusid.
Dwayne Johnson, Carla Gugino, Alexandra Daddario, Ioan Gruffud, Archie Panjabi, Paul Giamatti, Hugo Johnstone-Burt, Art Parkinson, Will Yun Lee, Kylie Minogue, Colton Hayes.
Ray (Johnson) is a specialist search and rescue helicopter pilot who finds himself battling collapsing buildings and tsunami waves as San Francisco suffers following a series of massive earthquakes. Desperate to find his estranged wife (Gugino) and daughter (Daddario), he has to fight his way through the rubble and the rising water to save them.
I have to admit (I’m often admitting things in these reviews, but this time it’s not for mere self reflection), I have never been happier to whack a 5/5 star rating onto a film than I have for San Andreas.
No, truly. You can even see it above, as this is a genuine, bona fide, movie classic.
Don’t get me wrong, this is no Vertigo (1959) or Citizen Kane (1941) in terms of cinematic perfection, San Andreas has neither the wit, pedigree or distinction of such classy fare. But I didn’t traipse to my local multiplex for clever, highbrow, smart-ass filmic excellence, I came to see thrill-a-second, nerve-jarring, effects-heavy movie larks and San Andreas not only delivers on this front, it also wipes its feet on your doormat, puts the goods away neatly in your cupboard and cleans the kitchen before it leaves.
Instead, it inhabits a whole new level of bliss-inducing pleasure entirely of its own.
What San Andreas does is quite unique for a blockbuster popcorn film – it makes you care. Just a little, but as a viewer, you actually invest your time in paying attention to the characters and feel some sort of empathy for them.
This is even more impressive considering the mighty special effects erupting around them, but never actually managing to swamp them. The drowning of one character is very well directed and is an affecting moment.
Usually such a scene would be handled by a director who sees it as nothing more than manipulative ‘down-time’, but this moment is not discarded by Peyton is ranked up for all the emotional clout he can muster.
Peyton and writer Flynn are a dynamite double-act. The ridiculously exciting start shows just how to grab an audience; they ensure that there is very little let-up after that.
Wisely the action, located mostly in San Francisco, is set-up in neat increments of increasingly spectacular calamity. We follow our heroes first in a helicopter, then a car, then in a light airplane and finally on a boat as middling quakes give way to mega-shakes and then an ocean liner toppling tsunami.
You keep thinking there’s nothing else they can throw at you and you’ll have time to catch your breath, but no – there’s always more. You certainly get your admission ticket’s worth.
Another aspect to the success of this film is it’s technically exquisite use of 3D (note to all: you need to see this in 3D or, even better, 4DX to squeeze even more value out of that admission ticket).
3D is so often used in a throwaway manner, an add-on of little worth in which occasional items appear in front of you to wake you from the slumber induced by the film you are watching.
Here, the 3D is an immersive experience, as close to taking you into the action on screen as is possible.
There are annoying things about the filming style (the propensity for trees or columns to occlude one’s view as the camera moves about is incredibly annoying), but the 3D is otherwise realised so professionally that there is actual depth and perspective to the scenery and settings – you feel like you are moving through the chaos with the characters. It is a fantastically disorienting experience (my legs even wobbled slightly after vacating my seat).
Performance wise, all is upright and correct. Excepting Gruffudd’s ‘villain’ and a hilariously brief cameo from singer Minogue as an arch and bitchy society woman, no one is morally dubious.
Johnson proves to be the big impression here (and not just physically) showing what a surprisingly nifty and emotive actor he can be given half the chance. Manly, gruff and dependable, he doesn’t just rely on his considerable height and muscle to fill the vastness of the screen, but is also tender during the quieter scenes with his scattered family. There’s no recourse to tears or a ladling of false emotion, just a big guy dealing with some serious sh*t.
Gorgeous Daddario is a star find as his daughter and she makes a cute couple with Johnstone-Burt. Gugino is a plucky damsel in distress and there is a comfortable rapport with all these players.
Giamatti, oddly, comes off worse in a tiresome, over the top turn as a seismologist who is too committed to be credible.
Of course, the script is carelessly written, peppered with over earnest explanation and preposterous postulating (after summarising the disaster situation they face, Johnson intones “Let’s go get our daughter”, with a tongue of testosterone).
But who cares if a few howlers are dropped carelessly all over the show. No one expects an Academy Award for best original script from this film.
Ladies and Gentlemen, San Andreas…no art, no nonsense. Catch it on the big screen while you can.