The Dark Tower movie review: Even Matthew McConaughey, Idris Elba can’t save it from collapsing | movie reviews | Hindustan Times
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The Dark Tower movie review: Even Matthew McConaughey, Idris Elba can’t save it from collapsing

The Dark Tower movie review: One of the worst adaptations of Stephen King’s works; even Matthew McConaughey and Idris Elba’s talents aren’t enough to save it from collapsing.

movie reviews Updated: Aug 27, 2017 14:34 IST
Rohan Naahar
The Dark Tower is one of the worst Stephen King adaptations ever. Even Matthew McConaughey and Idris Elba can’t save it from crumbling.
The Dark Tower is one of the worst Stephen King adaptations ever. Even Matthew McConaughey and Idris Elba can’t save it from crumbling.

The Dark Tower
Director - Nikolaj Arcel
Cast - Idris Elba, Matthew McConaughey, Tom Taylor
Rating - 2/5

Possibly the most hilarious bit of trivia about The Dark Tower is that Sony Pictures chose to premiere it at the MoMA – the landmark Museum of Modern Art that has housed works by artists like Picasso, van Gogh and Dali, and has provided a venue for provocateurs like Marina Abramović and Björk. It’s a perplexingly deliberate move to inject some form of legitimacy to what has to be one of the strangest summer movies in recent memory.

Identifying the problems with The Dark Tower isn’t a difficult task; we’ll get down to it presently. But after we’re done, there is a very good chance that you might actually be convinced that it’s some weird experimental movie that would feel out of place anywhere but the MoMA.

Before we begin, I must point out that I haven’t read Stephen King’s magnum opus, but have every intention to, despite this film. But regardless of whether or not you’ve read the books, you’ve probably come across the opening sentence of The Gunslinger, the first book in the series. It’s one of those bits of pop culture that has transcended its original fan-base and become something greater. So it would seem like a no-brainer to begin the film – in whichever manner – with some sort of nod towards that magnificent opening, a move which should hopefully unite novices and veteran King fans.

“The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.”

But we never see either of them. We don’t read the words on a title card and nor do we hear them being said by a wizened old lady remembering the grandmothers’ tales from her youth.

Instead, we open with 11-year-old Jake Chambers, a fatherless boy who dreams of a far-off land at night. In these dreams he sees a Man in Black who seeks to destroy the world by mounting an attack on a looming dark tower with an army of faceless men. Jake also sees a Gunslinger, who seeks to kill the Man in Black, as revenge for the murder of his father.

Ignored by his mother, patronised by his psychiatrist, and chased by the Man in Black’s men, Jake flees his home in New York and finds his way to an abandoned warehouse from his dreams. There, he discovers a portal that transports him to Mid-World, where the Man in Black is hightailing it across the desert, with the Gunslinger hot on his heels.

Everything about King’s book series sounds grand – from the Tolkien-inspired world, to the Sergio Leone-inspired characters. It is a story about fathers and sons – much hullaballoo is made about this in a mantra that the Gunslinger recites before embarking on a killing spree. Both Jake and Roland, the Gunslinger, have lost their fathers, a thematic connection that the movie tries to highlight rather feebly. And then, there is the shadowy tower that looms over everything. It is an abstract monolith, a metaphor that could mean anything from finding God to finding the purpose of life.

But all of these themes are lost in this movie. No matter how far along you’re in it, it always leaves you with that nagging feeling that you arrived 15 minutes too late to the theatre. Every scene, it seems, begins five minutes too late and ends five minutes too soon.

It’s a disorientating experience, watching the Dark Tower – much like watching one of those Andy Warhol movies that the MoMA screens, about a man farting in his sleep for 5 hours.

And all this – the unprovoked hopping across worlds, the rushed storytelling, and the seemingly random character introductions – are made stranger when you consider the 4,250 pages of dense lore that has to be attended to.

Director Nikolaj Arcel’s movie (another promising foreign filmmaker chewed out by the Hollywood machine, by the way) lasts 95 minutes. Ninety, if you scarper the moment it ends.

But in those 90 minutes, you will see a breathtakingly bizarre Matthew McConaughey performance. He plays the Man in Black like a Saturday Night Live parody of himself – all cheekbones and no charm, swarthy but without the swagger.

Poor Idris Elba, however, just can’t seem to catch a break – despite the curiously James Bond-like theme Junkie XL has composed for his character. McConaughey will simply swerve around it, as he has been doing with his previous three films, all signals that the once seemingly unstoppable McConnaissance might be ending, but for Elba, it’s another failed franchise starter. For him, the pain will be greater.

Watch the Dark Tower trailer here

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The author tweets @RohanNaahar