Wanted (2008): Russian Director Timur Bekmambetov’s American Debut

Call it the fast and the furious-Russian style. For his American feature debut, Russian-based director Timur Bekmambetov (“Day Watch”) has chosen “Wanted,” the twisted, visceral, violent transformation tale of Wesley Gibson, a faceless nobody who becomes a heroic enforcer of justice.
Based on the series of comic books by Mark Millar and J.G. Jones, the screenplay was penned by Michael Brandt & Derek Haas (“3:10 to Yuma”), and Chris Morgan (“Cellular”), with a story by Brandt & Haas.

An enjoyable summer fare, the picture, which served as opening night of the 2008 Los Angeles Film Festival, will be released by Fox on June 27 day and date, and should appeal to young viewers seeking visceral entertainment.

As you may know, Bekmambetov is the creator of “Day Watch” and “Night Watch,” the two biggest commercial hits in Russian film history. While these movies did not work for American audiences, “Wanted” should put Bekmambetov on the map as a hip, cool director adept at making fast-moving viscerally thrilling Hollywood actioners. The genre, now dominated by the Wachowski brothers (“Speed Racer”) and Michael Bay, needs help, and if has to come from Russia of all places, then be it.

In his effort, Bekmambetov is assisted by an appealing and skillful ensemble, headed by the versatile Scottish thespian James McAvoy (“Atonement,” “The Last King of Scotland”), who having spent considerable time at the gym could emerge as a viable action star; Morgan Freeman, who can do everything and anything and has acted in every genre (from “Batman Begins” to “Million Dollar Baby”), and Angelina Jolie, whose new role recalls her stellar work in “Mr. & Mrs. Smith,” and serves as a reminder of what the “Lara Croft” movies could and should have been, but were not.

McAvoy joins a growing list of good actors, such as Clive Owen in “Sin City,” Robert Downey Jr. in “Iron Man,” and Edward Norton in “The Incredible Hulk,” who approach their comic-book heroes “seriously,” that is, as actors, unlike 1980s action stars, such as Sly Stallone or Arnold Schwarzenegger, who, with their mega-size body and limited acting and vocal range, served as comic icons in comic-book heroes. The tension between performers like McAvoy and the material at hand works well in highlighting the elements of both realism and fantasy of this particular genre.

Though most discussion of “Wanted” likely would center on its director’s style and kinetic abilities in staging spectacular set pieces and manipulating audiences’ reaction in a visceral rather than intellectual or emotional way, the movie is not as plotless or mindless as most Hollywood action-adventures are these days. “Wanted” has a rather interesting story line and a new kind of “hero.”

At 25, Wesley (or Wes) is a slacker who hates his mundane life because it sucks. At work, his cruel boss torments him in front of his fellow cube-dwelling drones. Back home, his girlfriend is a sexual object for everyone, including his best friend, but him. A loser par excellence, Wes is on his 10th prescription for panic attack pills, which he downs like candy between cardboard meals of vegan tofu wraps, living an anonymously pathetic, miserable life that screams for a change.

Just when Wes feels he’s doomed, he encounters Fox (Jolie), a mysterious, attractive femme who crashes into his life in a way that film noir heroines do. Fox tells him that his supposedly long-lost, forgotten father was killed while working for the Fraternity, an old league of supersensory trained assassins pledged to carry out the orders of fate and rallying around the motto, “Kill One, Save a Thousand.”

Will Wes follow in his fathers footsteps Fox awakens in Wes his most primal, animalistic instincts caused by a combination of anger, rage, and frustration. He begins training under her and a lethal crew that includes the Fraternitys enigmatic leader, Sloan (Morgan Freeman). The neophyte is forcefully pummeled into developing lightning-quick reflexes and superhuman agility. In short order, the former slacker is reborn as the Fraternity’s golden boy. He begins to relish his new life, exacting and even enjoying cold revenge on some of his old tormentors.

We know that it’s only a matter of time before Wes undergoes a moral or existential crisis. And indeed, the alluring taste of power begins to sour, when he realizes that his deadly associates’ intentions arent as noble as he was led to believe. As he wavers between newfound heroism and cold vengeance, Wes must learn what no one-neither his cold-blooded father nor cruel assassin-could ever teach him, that he alone has to control his destiny, even if the risks are high.

Clearly, Mark Millar and J.G. Jones first issue of their comic book series, the dark, inventive Wanted holds cinematic potential. Under the helm of the creative Bekmambetov, the subject of a covert band of super villains who have split up the world into factions, gets an offbeat, ironic, ultra-violent spin that would be approved by his American counterparts Rodriguez and Tarantino. Bekmambetov brings a sardonic tone to his work, not in a silly or broad way, but in a darkly comedic way that undercuts the narrative whenever it threatens to become too earnest or too somber.

Taking advantage of Fox’s big budget and large scale production, and his own energetic resources, specifically charged kinetic skills and darkly humorous sensibility, Bekmambetov has made a relentlessly violent, visually stunning movie that creates its own eye-popping world, a milieu with a distinctive look and feel, in the same way that Ridley Scott and James Cameron did in their “Aliens” pictures and Caemron in “Terminator” features two decades ago.

In the production notes, Bekmambetov says: We spent two years getting from the first draft of the script to the shoot. It was important for us to push through a comfort level of what had been seen on film before and come up with ideas–no matter how outlandish they seemed–that could visually blow the audience away. Applying his credo, from the first sequence, the helmer places the audience in the midst of the action and refuses to let go.

You may take an issue with a director whose expressed goal is to shock and manipulate, but you’ve got to give him (and his team) credit for doing the job efficiently and effectively, at a time when the Wachowski siblings seem to experience creative inertia–despite technological innovations, and Michael Bay’s pictures are just getting bigger and louder.

At the end of the screening, you’ll either be oversaturated or overwhelmed, but you won’t be indifferent or passive.

To execute his singular vision, the director has assembled an international team of behind-the camera talent, including cinematographer Mitchell Amundsen (“Transformers,” “Transporter 2”), Oscar-winning production designer John Myhre (“Memoirs of a Geisha,” “Chicago”), Oscar-winning editor David Brenner (“Independence Day”), costume designer Varya Avdyuskhko (“Day Watch,” “Night Watch”) and composer Danny Elfman (“Spider-Man” franchise).

End Note

In 2004, Bekmambetovs “Nochnoy Dozor” (“Night Watch”), was budgeted at $1.8 million and grossed more than $16 million in Russia alone, making it more successful than “The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.” The sequel to “Night Watch” (the first installment of a trilogy), “Day Watch,” was released in 2006, budgeted at $4.2 million and grossing over $40 million in Russia.


Wesley Gibson – James McAvoy
Sloan – Morgan Freeman
Fox – Angelina Jolie
Pekwarsky – Terence Stamp
Cross – Thomas Kretschmann
The Gunsmith – Common
Cathy – Kristen Hager
The Repairman – Marc Warren
Mr. X – David Patrick O’Hara
The Exterminator – Konstantin Khabensky
The Butcher – Dato Bakhtadze
Barry – Chris Pratt
Janice – Lorna Scott


A Universal release, presented with Spyglass Entertainment in association with Relativity Media, of a Marc Platt/Kickstart production, in association with Top Cow.
Produced by Platt, Jim Lemley, Jason Netter, Iain Smith. Executive producers, Adam Siegel, Marc Silvestri, Roger Birnbaum, Gary Barber.
Co-producers, Mark Millar, J.G. Jones, Chris Carlisle, Sally French, Jared LeBoff.
Directed by Timur Bekmambetov.
Screenplay, Michael Brandt, Derek Haas, Chris Morgan; story, Brandt, Haas, based on the series of comicstrips by Mark Millar, J.G. Jones.
Cinematography, Mitchell Amundsen.
Editor, David Brenner.
Music, Danny Elfman; music supervisor, Kathy Nelson.
Production designer, John Myhre; supervising art director, Tomas Voth; art directors, Patrick Sullivan, David Baxa, Martin Vackar.
Set designers, Katerina Koutska, David Vondrasek, Frantisek Weber, Steven Saylor, Allan Fleischman; set decorator, Richard Roberts.
Costume designer, Varya Avdyushko.
Sound, Petr Forejt; supervising sound editor, Wylie Stateman; re-recording mixers, Chris Jenkins, Frank A. Montano.
Visual effects supervisors, Stefen Fangmeier, Jon Farhat; visual effects, Bazelevs, Framestore CFC, Hammerhead Prods.
Special effects supervisor, Dominic Tuohy; stunt coordinators, Mic Rodgers, Nick Gillard, Martin Hub, Rick Lefevour.
Fight coordinator, C.C. Smiff.

MPAA Rating: R.
Running time 111 Minutes.