I find myself in a unique situation in trying to review Jonah Hex. I’ve been reading about the character since Weird Western Tales #19 (1973), been blogging about Hex for four years, I read the original script, and even got a chance to visit the set during the filming.
Years ago I had a film professor state “Determine what the film is trying to do and judge it on that alone. Most films are trying to entertain, remember that.” To do an honest review, I feel that I had to forget everything I had heard, seen, and knew about the film beforehand.
Trying to put aside all foreknowledge of the character was tough, but I have done it before with other films. Thus I walked into the theater trying to see everything with new eyes. So let’s start at the top.
Jonah Hex is one beautiful film composed of some magnificent vibrant colors, great sweeping camera movements, and terrific vistas of open countryside. It even succeeded in small details. Every character had a different set of accessories and visually could not be confused with another. Everyone had rotten mangled teeth (even Megan Fox’s were slightly yellowed).
The opening sequences of the scarring of Hex, the delivery of the bounties, and the taking of the train were all nicely paced and introduced all the characters that we were going to need. Shortly after that, I started noticing what appeared to be cinematic holes in the film.
Relying once again on my film professor, a cinematic hole is where the audience is expecting a certain aspect of storytelling (a fade-out, something to indicate a passage of time, a parallel cut) and instead get nothing. This usually happens by a cut to an unexpected unrelated scene.
It first happened in this movie when Jonah and Lilah crawl into bed and we quickly get a cut to the next morning. It was too fast, too jarring and we saw some of the love sequence in the trailers, so I’m assuming that the film was trimmed to get a PG-13 rating instead of an R. Sadly that sort of cinematic hole happened over an over again in this movie.
The best thing about Jonah Hex, is that the film did succeed to entertain. It gave me a character or characters to care about, action to distract me from the real world, and pretty pictures to look at. It fails however, because it didn’t give me enough of what it promised.
I wanted more of Lt. Grass, more of President Grant, more of Turnbull and Burke. More of Lilah, while I didn’t care for her, could have helped change my mind and actually fleshed out the character. To the detriment of the film, I think that too much of everything ended up on the cutting room floor, heck, even a lame one-liner of Lilah’s (“I always do like when you show up.”) seen through several trailers was cut for no reason, again creating a cinematic hole.
So, did Jonah Hex do what it was supposed to do, entertain me? Yes. I willingly suspended my disbelief, snickered a few times, rooted for the hero, groaned at some bad dialogue (“America needs a sheriff.” Urg!) and sat through the entire end credits, something I do out of respect for films I enjoy. And to wrap it all up, I saw the film again the next day and realized the movie holds up better on a second viewing, but a film should do that on the first viewing.
Did the actors do what they were supposed to do, convince me they were different people? Josh Brolin was Jonah Hex, Michael Fassbender was Burke, Tom Wopat, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, and Will Arnett all succeeded. Sadly, Megan Fox and John Malkovich were nothing other than themselves (and with Malkovich, that isn’t even a bad thing)
I’m not sure what politics were involved, but there was a very good movie somewhere deep in all the film that was shot and it got whittled down, intentionally or not, into an okay movie, one that a lot of people will miss and one that I will hope might get a restored chance on DVD.