Robert Zemeckis is a veteran director who refuses to rest on his laurels. Over the years, he’s been responsible for some major hits – Back to the Future, Forest Gump, Who Killed Roger Rabbit? – and, of course, there’ve been a few misfires – Beowulf for example? And The Polar Express is a film that tends to divide viewers.
Welcome to Marwen is a ‘so weird it must be true’ story, based on the life of artist, Mark Hogancamp, though it should be noted that, like a lot of ‘true’ stories, the scriptwriters don’t hesitate to jettison those facts that don’t fit with their vision of the tale.
Hogancamp’s backstory is a harrowing one. A talented artist with a passion for World War 2 imagery and an obsession with wearing women’s shoes, he drunkenly confessed this to some strangers he met in a bar, who then ambushed him and beat him mercilessly, putting him into a coma for nine days. When he finally came back to his senses, he found that he had lost all memory of what happened to him before the night of the attack – and he could no longer remember how to draw.
When we first encounter Hogancamp (Steve Carell), he is engaged in a long-established photography project that is an attempt both to rekindle his artistic abilities and to come to terms with the awful hate crime that has robbed him of his former life. In his garden, he has constructed Marwen, a miniature Belgian town, occupied by Nazis and populated by dolls. It’s here that his avatar, Captain Hogie, a fearless maverick (who also has a liking for high heels) is running an energetic resistance movement, backed up by five female freedom fighters – all based on women who are important in the artist’s life,
It must be said that the women in question seem to take his somewhat creepy depictions of them with unbelievably good grace, but I guess they knew him before he was attacked, and are prepared to cut him some slack.
Of course, this being a Robert Zemeckis film, Hogie’s adventures are recreated through state-of-the-art motion-capture and there’s no denying that the ensuing scenes are an extraordinary technological achievement. But the main problem is that the film can’t seem to decide what it wants to be. For the most part, it’s about a man going through a slow healing process and gradually gaining the necessary strength to confront his assailants in court, but the real life scenes are regularly interspersed with more of those mo-cap sequences and I can’t help feeling there’s rather too many of them and that – until the very end – they all seem to play out in exactly the same way, without really advancing the story.
There’s a tendency too to punch home the film’s messages with a heavier hand than seems strictly necessary. Déja (Diane Kruger)’s significance, for example, is immediately apparent, but spelled out laboriously for the hard of thinking,
Carrell, it must be said, is terrific in the lead role and Merritt Wever is appealing as the manager of the local toy shop who quietly carries a torch for him.
Welcome to Marwen is never less than interesting – but, despite all that cutting-edge brilliance, there’s something here that doesn’t quite add up to a satisfying night at the cinema.