Published on July 28th, 2015 | by Brad0
Maggie – A Review
There’s been a common misconception throughout Arnold Schwarzenegger’s career that the Austrian Oak can’t act. I don’t know if it’s to do with that trademark thick Austrian accent or the fact that he primarily works in action films, but he’s always been very underrated as an actor, I feel. There’s a reason why Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone and Bruce Willis were big stars and the likes of Dolph Lundgren, Jean-Claude Van Damme and Steven Seagal went straight to DVD. Since his return from a stint in the political sphere Schwarzenegger has tried to play with his image a bit, playing a criminal in Escape Plan and a corrupt cop in Sabotage, and Maggie is another example of that.
Maggie is set in a world post the zombie apocalypse. The situation has largely died down, though there are still some infected folk ravening the countryside. Arnold Schwarzenegger plays Wade Vogel, a farmer whose daughter Maggie (Abigail Breslin) runs away from home, only to reunite with her father at a clinic for the freshly infected after she gets bitten. In this world, once bitten it typically takes about six to eight weeks for the infection to take hold and the victim to turn, so Wade takes Maggie home where he and her step-mother Caroline (Joely Richardson) can take care of her in her final days.
As you can tell, Maggie is neither your typical Schwarzenegger movie nor your typical zombie movie. This is about a widowed father whose only child with his late wife contracts a terminal illness. There’s a thick air of melancholy which runs throughout the film as Maggie’s condition progresses, and Wade has to deal with both the pain of slowly losing his daughter and the external pressure as she’s still infectious, and will eventually become a danger to everyone once she turns. Wade has two younger children with Caroline, who are moved out of the family home early on for their own safety. Maggie herself has to deal with what she represents to a community who’ve just come through the zombie apocalypse, whilst having to say her farewells to her friends and family, and having to cope with the fact that her body is slowly failing her. There’s a scene early on where she breaks her finger and it becomes necrotic, so she deals with the problem in the family kitchen, which is absolutely gut-wrenching to watch.
With the exception of one fist fight and Maggie’s flashback to her getting bitten, there’s really no action in Maggie. It’s slow, thoughtful and has a lot to say about the process of slowly dying and how that affects the people around you. There are things which the zombie theme allows it to do and say which you don’t necessarily see in a more traditional terminal illness film, specifically allowing for the pain of your body failing you to be expressed through the body horror a la the aforementioned finger scene. The lead trio of Schwarzenegger, Breslin and Richardson are absolutely superb, bringing you into this impossible situation and making you cheer every little victory and making a gut-punch out of every defeat. First time director Henry Hobson – who, tellingly, did some work on Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us – does extremely well here, with the odd false step that you can forgive a first-timer. The makeup work on Breslin is chilling, slowly robbing her of her humanity without ever going too far. I hope that when awards season rolls around the people who vote for the makeup category remember Maggie, because it’s a stunning piece of work.
Arnold is on very solid ground with a film like Maggie. The man’s pushing 70, it would be unrealistic to expect him to continue the action forever (albeit he’s in much better shape at 67 than I am at 26!) and Wade Vogel is a character who makes strengths out of Schwarzenegger’s limitations as an actor. The accent is still a bit tough to get past when he’s meant to be a Midwestern farmer called Wade, but you can let that slide. This is the most vulnerable we’ve ever seen Arnold on screen, and it’s a really strong performance. In days gone by, this movie would have been Arnold searching for a cure against all odds; here he’s just trying to come to terms with the fact that his daughter is about to die, there’s nothing he can do and he has to decide whether to send her off to quarantine to be euthanised, inject her himself and be there while she suffers through the very painful effects of it, or make it quick by using his shotgun. It’s a very dark, very melancholic piece of work with quite a bit to say for itself. Recommended.