INTO THE STORM: Richard Armitage US Review
I will begin with a confession: since it was announced that Richard Armitage would star in what I came to call the “Unnamed Into the Black Tornado Storm Sky Project 4, 5, 6(?),” I planned to see it only because it featured RA as its leading man. You see, I am not really a disaster film fan. But I should’ve trusted RA because I’ve never been so wrong in all my life. Brief explanation: Like most of us who follow RA’s career, I’d been reading about Into the Storm for, roughly, three years. It seemed to start out as a small, found-footage-intertwined-with-human-stories film. Then we started seeing photos like this one. (Tweeted by that [formerly tricky] Into the Storm Producer Todd Garner!)
Then the bits and pieces of video started coming out, and they were full-on disaster clips. But Mr. G. promised he would supply “the power of the human spirit” that RA mentioned at CinemaCon.* The second trailer delivered. Still it was a monster movie, those tornadoes clearly being both monster and star. And I’m not a monster movie person. But, accompanied by a gleeful group of Richard Armitage US members, I was brave enough to attend a preview screening in Atlanta, thanks to Mr. G (who turns out to be a fun tweeter and fine man), and the generosity of Warner Brothers Pictures. I want to say that any connection – albeit slim – or gratitude for their kindness has no effect on this review. Nor is my assessment affected by my respect and affection for Richard Armitage overall. Believe it or not, the film was so engrossing, and the ensemble of actors and their characters so strong, I actually forgot to focus on Gary Fuller. The film takes just the right amount of time establishing its human characters: a rather brusque man, Gary Fuller, has an awkward and uncomfortable relationship with his two sons. The backstory is that there was a divorce and then the mom died, so the boys have come to live with Dad. But Dad – for a vice-principal of a high school – doesn’t really seem to know how to communicate with teenagers. (I kept reminding myself that he’s also a football coach and so is used to having his orders – never suggestions – followed.) The sons are beautifully realized by Max Deacon as serious and shy Donnie, and an initially cheeky Nathan Kress, as younger son Trey. Donnie’s secret crush Kaitlyn – a smart, environmentally conscious young woman – portrayed by Alycia Debnam Carey rounds out the dynamic of the family relationships.
And then we have the Storm-Chasers, Matt Walsh as Pete, who has to get that shot before losing his backers, Sarah Wayne Callies as Allison, a scientist, and a smart, strong female character; Arlen Escarpeta as Daryl, a dedicated storm chaser with a heart; and Jeremy Sumpter as Jacob, a newbie storm-chaser-shooter who’s uncertain about his latest career choice.
And that’s the cast… OH! Except the wild cards: Reevis and Donk, wanna-be YouTube stars. Since the second trailer debuted, to me, Reevis has been the “Dude! M’arm hairs” guy and Donk has been his sidekick. From that trailer, I swore if anything happened to “Dude,” I’d never recover. Played, respectively (if not respectably), by Jon Reep and Kyle Davis, these two guys provide much-needed comic relief. (Hey, I’m Southern, and was not offended in the least, just don’t call them hillbillies or rednecks… these kinds of guys are just about everywhere in the US.) And if their Flaming Pool of Death gag and its aftermath doesn’t make you laugh out loud, I worry for you.
So that’s the – forgive me – calm before the storm(s). You’ve all seen samples of that video. Helicopters crashing into buildings, planes swept up in funnels, a tornado bearing right down on our people and, of course, the fire funnels. But there is so much more. And all of it is breathtaking. The storms and their destructive power are stunning and relentless and horrifying, and – with the theater sound – is about as real as you can get to a tornado without actually being in one (and I have).
And while this nasty fella makes his way toward our heroes… our YouTube stars chuck their beer cans to record it while Storm-Chaser Daryl gets a money shot. All this said, honestly, I have to see this film again, and perhaps several times; in fact, I’ll be at the theater with friends on Opening Day, August 8. There is SO much going on, I found it difficult to focus… even on RA. Plus, it was SO much more than I expected: more believable storms, more heartbreak, more humanity, more beauty, more power, more character development. In fact, the ensemble is amazing. Standouts are Max Deacon, whose American accent is flawless and seems effortless, and his character is both poignant and brave. I expected Nathan Kress to turn in a solid performance, and he did. Matt Walsh’s Pete is simply fascinating to watch… in every scene. Sarah Wayne Callies is a welcome note of sanity and humanity in the chaos. Jon Reep and Kyle Davis are unforgettable. And then there’s RA. As the head of what appears to be a rigidly structured household, he is hardly sympathetic in the beginning. His first scene with Donnie breaks my heart. And he spends much of the film yelling over the wind; he has few quiet moments. (An aside: how I long to see RA in a role that allows him to speak quietly, using that voice and all its nuance.) Yes, there is a character arc, but in his case, I longed for more. And that’s not RA’s fault, but the production’s or the script’s. Still, it’s a solid performance – especially considering his water phobia and having a truck dropped in the street just 10 meters in front of him. He delivers what the director and script called for, but I think much of Gary’s humanity was the result of RA’s suggestions, and Director Steven Quale’s openness to collaboration.
AMENDMENT: I had said after my first screening that I thought that the epilogue with some of the characters updating their status felt tacked on and simplistic. But I’ll say no more about that here. I have thoughts, but don’t want to give anything that might resemble a content spoiler. On SECOND viewing, I want to make it VERY clear that the the ultimate final scenes were very satisfying! You’ll see what I mean when you see the film.
And, I have to say, there is just one detail continues to bug me: what happened to all those dozens of other school buses filled with students and others at the school’s storm shelter? This is the last school bus we see, and it’s just the one Gary and his crew were in… It is a puzzlement.
That side, it’s a wild ride with interesting characters, monster storms and a super cast. Terrific for a summer movie. Congrats, everyone. As RA says:
Finally, one last shot of the entire cast at the premiere… Didn’t I tell you that Jon and Kyle are unforgettable?
Please let me know your thoughts about the film… and I may have a whole ‘nother reaction after seeing it a second (and third and fourth, infinity) time.
Our Black Carpet interviews with dome of the cast – RA, Matt, Max and Arlen – Are all here in one sweet clip! The Richard Armitage US/Sarah Alize Cross team and their roles: Interviewed by: Sara Alize Cross; Shot by: S. Iturri Sosa, Rachael Levy, Adam Smith Sound by: Lana T. Yang
* “The power of nature is both terrifying and awe-inspiring, but what is more inspiring than that is the power of the human spirit.” ` Richard Armitage, CinemaCon, March 2014.