In Praise of the visionary Gore Verbinski

Ahead of GFF's screening of A Cure for Wellness, one writer takes a look at the career of its mercurial director, Gore Verbinski, one of the more divisive Hollywood directors regularly handed big budgets

Feature by Josh Slater-Williams | 20 Feb 2017

For the best part of a decade now, Hollywood marketers has shown a penchant for promoting the 'visionary' – you'll be familiar with trailers claiming the latest film hitting your multiplex as being from 'visionary director [INSERT NAME HERE]'. Our research suggests the trend started around the time of Watchmen’s first trailer in 2008, which featured the line 'From the visionary director of 300.' This credit provoked some questioning; that comic book adaptation's director, Zack Snyder, only had two prior feature credits to his name before being awarded this lofty title: fellow faithful comic adaptation 300, and a remake of Dawn of the Dead. Was it premature to label this figure a visionary based on little evidence of his own originality?

Further 'visionaries' have been cited in trailers since, some of which have made more sense, but the latest example to get some pundits a-tweeting was the initial trailer for asylum horror A Cure for Wellness, which attributed the status to director Gore Verbinski. The Verbinski who helmed much of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise that went so stale? The man whose last film, The Lone Ranger, was a notable box office bomb?

Is Gore Verbinski a visionary director? Our verdict: a resounding yes, actually.

Since his 1997 debut MouseHunt, Verbinski’s career has involved blockbuster behemoths (the first three Pirates films), an Oscar-winning animation (Rango), a trendsetter horror remake (The Ring), and more modest comedies (The Weather Man, The Mexican). Though he has regular collaborators in Disney, Johnny Depp and producer Jerry Bruckheimer, his body of work is surprisingly varied for someone regularly handed substantial budgets; certainly more so than, say, Michael Bay, whom Verbinski was compared to by some around the Pirates series’ heyday.

By no means is quality guaranteed, but Gore Verbinski's films are always, at the very least, rife with ambition. The Pirates sequels may be lumbering messes, but their failures and odd excesses are a darn sight more interesting than most in their field. It’s telling that Rob Marshall, who took the reins for the franchise's fourth film, On Stranger Tides, couldn’t make an instalment with half the personality of its predecessors. Even Verbinski's career outliers The Weather Man and The Mexican are more offbeat than their studios knew what to do with when it came to marketing.

These two comedies aside, Verbinski’s films are all fuelled with an atypical passion for the macabre. The Ring possesses it in spades by virtue of its genre, but Rango and his assorted blockbusters all show a love for the deathly, squelchy and disgusting in their designs and narratives. Even Mouse Hunt, ostensibly a family film, opens with the protagonists’ father’s corpse being sent flying down a manhole.

A final thing to give Verbinski credit for, in terms of a distinctive imprint, is how he injects homages to classic Hollywood into his bigger movies, in often surprising ways. Few would expect a Nickelodeon animation starring Johnny Depp as a chameleon to become a riff on the plot of Chinatown. And for all its questionable casting choices, The Lone Ranger’s love of old school westerns and its climactic, full-on tribute to Buster Keaton’s The General fuel some of the best large-scale cinema set-pieces of recent memory. In short, Verbinski deserves the visionary moniker, ahead of A Cure for Wellness, because you just don’t know what you’re going to get.

A Cure for Wellness screens at Glasgow Film Festival: 23 Feb, GFT, 9pm | released nationwide by 24 Feb by 20th Century Fox

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