Jessica Biel has been a busy girl this year… in between planning a marriage to JT, the actress has found the time to do a number of films: this summer’s Total Recall, as well as the highly anticipated Hitchcock and the not so highly anticipated Playing For Keeps. All three are well known to movie-goers (such as yourself). But I’m willing to bet you have little to no knowledge of Biel’s fourth film of 2012. The one that went from theaters to streaming video within a month. The Tall Man.
There’s a good reason for that.
Biel plays Julia Denning, a widowed nurse in a small, poverty-stricken mining town where children are disappearing on a regular basis. The disappearances are attributed to a local legend called the Tall Man, who some claim to have seen walking into the woods with the missing children, but who no one’s been able to catch. When her son is kidnapped, Julia must face both the Tall Man and the wrath of the townspeople.
To be honest, I’ve had a hard time thinking about how to review this movie without giving too much away; so much of what’s wrong with it has to do with the plot itself. So bear with me… I’ll start there and see if I can’t adequately bag on it without having to use the phrase “SPOILER ALERT.”
The film’s main twist is ridiculously predictable. I didn’t get more than a half hour in before I knew how it was going to end. But, more than that, it’s just really poorly executed. It’s like the writers kept trying to make it more complicated than it actually was. So the whole film felt like it was leading toward something — like it was always about to take some turn that never happened. Quite simply, the film drags. The Tall Man clocks in at an hour and forty-five minutes, and it would have been more successful as a short.
Maybe if the movie had been shorter, it wouldn’t have suffered from such a huge genre identity crisis. According to IMDb, it’s a crime/drama/mystery, but Rotten Tomatoes includes suspense and horror in its classification. I went into it thinking it would be more of a horror movie, something along the lines of Ju-on (The Grudge) — slower pace, but great scare payoffs. It wasn’t even close. Maybe the reason The Tall Man is filed under so many genres is because it sucks at fitting into any of them.
Then there’s the not-so-subtle bit of social commentary running throughout the film. I get that the filmmakers want to send a message about the need for better educational programs for children in this country. I’m on board with the argument that something should be done to prevent kids in low income households from falling through the cracks. But I don’t need to listen to a three-minute monologue to have that message hammered home. I don’t watch movies so I can be treated like an uneducated child, and I’m certainly not looking to have lessons spelled out for me. I’m assuming most audience members feel the same way.
And, let’s be real here, Jessica Biel is the wrong choice for this kind of movie. She does one thing pretty well, and that’s fighting bad guys while wearing tight and/or revealing clothing. She is not (or at least she has yet to prove she is) a good actress. New Year’s Eve, Valentine’s Day, Powder Blue, 7th Heaven… I could go on. But do I need to? Biel just can’t pull off dramatic roles. And watching her in The Tall Man is torturous; mostly it’s an hour and forty-five minutes of seeing her get more and more heavily bruised and beaten. Like making her less attractive is going to somehow negate the fact that she’s terrible. It doesn’t. So can we just agree to stop giving her these parts?
If you don’t believe me, and think that it’d be great to see Jessica Biel attempt to headline a pseudo-serious bore fest with a social conscience, then by all means, give The Tall Man a chance. Just don’t come crying to me when you’re wishing for your time back. I tried to warn you.