Bright, directed by David Ayer, is a film riddled with elements that continually clash with one another; creating a disjointed, muddled feeling experience. A director and a writer whose styles don’t mix, a tone that is all over the place, a world that’s rules felt more like punch-lines, rather than interesting world-building, and poor attempts at social commentary; all collide with one another to create a film with no clear direction. There are parts to Ayer’s ability as a director that make the film enjoyable (at times) but this is a film that really struggles to find a balance at any point. So let’s explore those imbalances, and see where this film goes wrong.
Set in an alternate world where mythical creatures (Orcs, Elves, Fairy’s, etc.) live side-by-side with humans – though not equally. Two cops, Daryl Ward (a human) – played by Will Smith – and Nick Jakoby (an orc) – played by Joel Edgerton – are forced to be partners, which of course creates problems for everybody. But the two get wrapped up in something much bigger than race issues, as a magical wand that could bring-on the end of the world falls into their hands, and it becomes their job to keep it away from all the bad individuals who want it for their own personal gain.
When I look at this film from a top down view, the main issue that I think feeds into creating all the other issues, are the director (David Ayer) and writer’s (Max Landis) very different styles, which do not mesh. Landis is a writer who is great at big-picture ideas; ideas that when you here a brief synopsis of, sound really interesting. But when you begin to drill down into the minutia of them, the limitations in his ability to adequately and meaningfully expand and explore them become very apparent. That is a problem that is clear to see in Bright from the very beginning and throughout. There is just a lack of focus when it comes to tackling the larger world that Landis created in his head. But Landis is still a writer who brings sincerity and heart to his stories and more than anything is usually great at offering and then exploring compelling characters – so it’s a shame that even that facet of his writing fails in this film (but I’ll circle back to that point in a little bit).
So when you take the style of Max Landis’ writing and couple it with David Ayer’s much more rough, macho style; you get a film that feels like it’s pulling in two different directions. Ayer is a director who likes to get into the dirt of the world; exploring characters and settings that are unforgiving on people and often tears them down and rips them apart at every moment – just look at, ‘End of Watch’, ‘Fury’ or ‘Sabotage.’ People in harsh, real world situations who are beat down and punished, which in turn, forms them into hardened individuals with an unrelenting masculinity.
Ayer is really good at those types of stories; his work as a writer on ‘Training Day’ and as a Director/Writer on ‘Fury/End of Watch’ prove that. But it does not work when you take that style and approach, and try to merge it with a fantasy setting. Taking a rough-and-tumble character and have them talk seriously about magic wands and dark lords, while having a hardened straight face, is more comical than anything else. The film takes its self so seriously, yet I couldn’t help but derisively laugh at how embarrassing every line of dialogue or macho character seemed silly, rather than intimidating. Dialogue in general was a problem; feeling clunky and awkward. It continually ripped me out of a scene, as it would pull my attention towards trying to comprehend the ridiculousness of the thing they had just said, and the conviction they put behind it. At no point did anything the characters would say feel natural.
But all of that is harmless and some people will certainly enjoy the wonky, unintentionally comical tone, but what isn’t harmless and instead drags the film into a place it probably should have avoided; is when it attempts to tackle racial inequality in America by looking at it through a fantasy lens. It’s very clear what Bright is trying to say – in fact, I think you have to actively be trying to not listen to what the film is saying to miss its point. It is so in your face and lacks any hint of subtlety, that it becomes intrusive, more than anything else. But worst of all, what the film says, isn’t anything meaningful or of merit. It doesn’t open your eyes to things that we don’t already know; it doesn’t shine a light on a problem that America is now able to discuss in a more open way. It simply does and says what other films have said before, only they said it better and at the time it created genuine and necessary discussion.
Bright is a film that tries to do a lot, and for the most part you can look at those elements as being fun or quirky. But it’s attempts to tackle racial inequality in America is a flat-out failing on the films part. It’s clear that the film didn’t really have anything to say, other than: “look, this is a problem.” So I’m a little confused as to why it felt it had to say anything at all. It only served to undermine the film.
And the clearest example of how it undermines the film from a storytelling angle, is that the focus on commentating on societies well-known issues, goes onto hinder the characters that the film doesn’t feel to be important until later on, after you’ve already checked out of the experience. There are hints of a fun, compelling dynamic between the two lead characters, but unfortunately, in the beginning, both characters are largely overlooked, other than being given the basic structures to form a character. Rather than taking the time to foster a connection with officers, Ward and Jakoby, the film hijacks that time to try to bulldoze its way through the issues that plague American society.
When it comes time for them to become the focus of the film, it’s too late. You aren’t given any reason to care about them, nor are you filled with the want to be a part of their story. They were more like empty shells still waiting to be filled, to me. The film certainly tries later on to connect you to the two characters, and there were a few instances when I felt myself beginning to feel interested by the man and orc on-screen, but it wasn’t enough. One particular scene with the two characters hiding out in a public bathroom sticks in my mind, as it offers one of the few instances of character development, but other than that, they mostly just run around and say silly one-liners to each other.
It was one of the primary reasons why I never cared about this film. I had nothing and no one to latch onto and care about. I was watching two characters (and an elf woman who was also there) run around L.A. being fuelled by a plot I at no point cared about. It’s a shame because this is what director David Ayer is best at; handling a small group of characters in a condensed setting, yet here there is none of the memorable character handling that he’s known for. Not even the charismatic Will Smith and the extremely talented and underrated Joel Edgerton could rescue the characters. This really is a film where there is the possibility of good things but a lack of coherent, compelling execution.
Without characters to connect too, you have to hope that the plot is it least compelling enough to hold your attention – unfortunately it is not. It’s your bog-standard; everyone wants the McGuffin and the protagonists need to keep it safe and out of the hands of the bad-guys. It never interested me and was a further reason why I found boredom to be a constant companion during the film.
I couldn’t even rely on David Ayer’s ability to construct and shoot exciting action set-pieces. Much of the action in the film is very flat and oddly shot. Car chases, fight scenes and big explosions all failed to get me amped up and invested in what was happening. I sat in a passive state for much of the film, wondering if anything stimulating would come along.
Perhaps the only part to the film that I always found myself enjoying; was the production design. The prosthetics worn by the orc characters looked great and were able to allow a surprising amount of expression from the actors. Many of the sets had some really unique, memorable designs, and overall it was a film that visually caught my eye, despite the harsh, unwelcoming backdrop of L.A. being the setting of the film. For me, that was the only element of the film I ever found myself attaining a sense of fulfilment from.
I was really interested in seeing Bright and I had high hopes for Netflix’s first attempt at a blockbuster scale film, but unfortunately it seems they haven’t quite grasped how to pull it off yet. There is certainly a world in Bright that could be mined for some interesting stories, and David Ayer continues to show he’s a director with specific talents that keep me wanting to check his films out, but ultimately this is a muddled, forgettable film that fails at much that it tries to do. At it’s best, Bright has some interesting ideas and at its worst it is very boring.
I don’t recommend, Bright. There are plenty of other films on Netflix deserving of your time and I can’t think of any reason why I would put this one over one of them. Don’t stress about missing Bright, you won’t remember it for long, even if you did see it.
What were your thoughts on Bright, and what did you think of my review of it? Let me know in the comments section down below. Feel free to follow both my blog and my Twitter – @GavinsRamblings. But I’ll bring my ramblings to a close by saying thank you to you for taking the time to read my review and I hope you liked it enough to return. Have a wonderful day!