Stander's Screening Room: I AM LEGEND
Admittedly, that show wasn't much of a stretch for him; "young rapper makes good" kinda thing. Pretty cool, but I generally got the impression that he wasn't doing much more than simply being himself, a skinny street-wise kid from West Philly, and having a blast doing it. (I mean, come on, they didn't even bother changing his NAME.)
Then he started making movies. Specifically, his first real starring role came in "Six Degrees of Separation", and he pretty much gobsmacked everybody with his performance.
In my humble opinion, he's never looked back since. (Well, okay...there was that "Wild Wild West" turkey. Even HE'S embarrassed about that one.) His ability to mold himself into whatever role has been put in front of him, coupled with a work ethic that would put a stable full of plowhorses in traction, has enabled him to become a one-man Hollywood powerhouse.
There's one thing he hadn't done, though, at least as far as I know...a one-man MOVIE.
I've always wondered what he would able to do without a cast to bounce off of. Would he be able to carry almost an entire film on just his own skills as an actor?
Enter the answer....I AM LEGEND.
If you've ever read Richard Matheson's 1954 novel of the same name, you have a reasonable understanding of what's going on here. A great plague has stricken the Earth, rendering nine-tenths of the world's population dead as doornails, and most of the remaining tenth reduced to mutated, vampiristic, not-so-dead
The setting here is New York City, circa 2012, completely devoid of sentient life as we know it (with the exception of Will's character and his dog, Sam) for the three years since the initial spread of the virus...and, folks, it is almost seamless. The thoroughfares are overrun with the detritus of people gone missing (abandoned cars, road construction projects dropped in mid-jackhammer, etc.) and also deer, birds, and even lions (hey, zoo animals gotta eat too), and beginning to be overgrown with wild grasses and weeds. In short, this is a very realistic picture of what the place might look like if us biped-types just picked up and moved out all of a sudden, and nature began the process of reclaiming the city.
Will Smith, in the guise of Robert Neville, is the ghost in the shell of the once-bustling NYC machine. And in Will's hands, Neville is a human being who has been handed the ultimate double-edged sword.
During the day, Neville is the King of New York City. We're talking blank-check-of-the-gods here. The city is his supermarket, safari, department store, and entertainment center all rolled into one, and he recognizes it and uses it to keep himself fed, safe and -- above all -- sane. (Hey, I'd put up mannequins in the video store, too, if only to have someone other than my dog to talk to once in a while.)
He has also apparently managed to visit the local hospital enough to outfit a pretty decent-looking microbiological laboratory in his basement, where he can be found when not foraging for food and supplies. His ultimate goal (and the driving plot of the film) is to find a cure for the virus's effects on those it did not kill, and Will does a masterful job of portraying the frustrations of a scientist trying to hammer a viral nail that just won't go down.
Which brings us to the other side of the "carte blanche"...He is, indeed, the only human being he has seen in over three years -- for all he knows, he may be the only one left on the planet -- but he is also not alone. And Will's performance during the nighttime scenes carry well the juxtaposition of the two extremes: When night falls, the erstwhile kings of the castle become just a guy and his dog, boarded up in his house, praying that the horde of slavering, howling monsters patrolling outside will pass him by unknowingly, just once more.
I won't blow anymore of the movie for you. I will just say, before releasing you to see this for yourself, that Will gives the character of Robert Neville a range of emotion, strength and weakness that totally sold me. I cared about this character enough to forget for a while that I was just watching a movie, and found myself jumping at the scares and appreciating his attempts at normal life in the daytime like I was standing there with him. (Friends, there are one or two moments of absolute sadness in the movie that I defy you to watch and remain unmoved.)
Ladies and gentlemen....I AM LEGEND, Francis Lawrence director.
Just plain POWERFUL.