You've got to pity Oliver Hirschbiegel. Following his excellent and intriguing depiction of Hitler's final days in 'Downfall', the German director must have felt like he had sufficiently earned the right to tackle a big Hollywood movie without outside interference. Unfortunately, Hollywood doesn't work like that and when the suits didn't like his final cut of 'The Invasion', a host of other cooks were brought in to spoil the broth.
Originally completed in early 2006, 'The Invasion' underwent massive reshooting in 2007, with 'V For Vendetta' director James McTeigue and 'Matrix' duo Andy Wachowski and Larry Wachowski brought in for rewrites. Indeed, it was so long ago that Hirschbiegel's original version was completed that Daniel Craig found the time to be unveiled as the new James Bond and complete 'Casino Royale'.
The fourth adaptation of Jack Finney's 1955 novel, 'The Body Snatchers', begins with the disintegration of a space shuttle which, as it re-enters Earth, leaves in its trail a highly contagious alien infection. Among the first infected is the head of the Centre for Disease Control, Tucker Kaufman (Northam), who proceeds to help the pandemic swiftly infiltrate government, media, police and other social infrastructures. Publicised as a "dangerous flu virus", the virus in fact works on people's brains and turns them into emotionless zombies once they fall asleep.
Meanwhile his ex-wife Carol Bennell (Kidman), a Washington DC psychiatrist, has been noticing changes in her patients and those around her. When her son Oliver (Bond) comes across a weird tissue substance, she takes it to her doctor and friend Ben Driscoll (Craig) to be analysed. Rapidly learning that some evil is at work, Carol and Driscoll discover that, conveniently, her son may be immune to the virus and thus the key to a cure. Oliver however has been taken away by his dad and an infected Carol must find him without falling asleep.
It's impossible of course to conclusively say if Hirschbiegel's final cut was any good. However, on the evidence at-hand, the blending of his low-key, moody tones is so mismatched with the Wachowski's over-the-top action sequences that it's possible to see where Hirschbiegel takes his exit and McTeigue and the Wachowskis come blazing in.
The early scenes of 'The Invasion' are atmospheric, well-paced and engaging as Hirschbiegel's subtle approach has the effect of adding a disconcerting realism to the events on screen. As he blends elements such as mistrust of government; the fear of a worldwide pandemic and the situation in Iraq and Darfur into the background, the film takes on a creepy, Stanley Kubrick feel and an entertaining opening 40 minutes promises much.
However, the film abruptly torpedoes into mainstream action fare as its early creepy arthouse tones combust into all-out action sequences. These sequences climax in the most over-the-top fashion in a scene which seems lifted from 'The Matrix' and sees Kidman speeding through the city in a car which is on fire. Nothing wrong here, but the scene is totally at odds with the film Hirschbiegel had begun to mould. The film's conclusion is also extremely weak, leaving us with the message that "without war, we're not human". One doubts this is the kind of parting thought the director who gave us 'Downfall' would have intended.
In all, 'The Invasion' will leave you feeling short-changed and more than a little peeved, not because it's necessarily a bad film, but because it promised so much more before careering off-path.