I Am Legend by Francis Lawrence is a novel about the last man in Manhattan. Perhaps on the whole world. It is based on Richard Matheson’s novel of the same name. Robert Neville is the name of the lead character. In both the novel and the two recent film versions, Robert was a white man. This time, though, he is played by Will Smith.
The theme of solitude is central to I Am Legend. Despite the fact that Richard Neville is not alone. He has Samantha, his German shepherd, and a horde of zombies who creep across the city at night because they are scared of the sun. But this company is obviously not enough. He spent three years in such a state and it starts to show. A viewer finds this character on the verge of a nervous breakdown.
The movie opens with an epic drive on a luxury car through one of the main streets on Manhattan. This city was probably chosen for the fact that it is so overpopulated and it is never empty. So this movie is one of the few chances to actually see what it would look like without people. Therefore the impression it makes on viewers is doubled. It also looks really deserted with all the wild animals running around in tall grass. Richard even takes his opportunity to go on the hunt sometimes. He basically does everything he can just to fill up his lonely days. Another notorious scene in the beginning of the movie is the one where Richard Neville plays golf standing on the wing of a fighter aircraft. He shoots balls straight in the water. He feels that during the daylight he is basically a king of this island and he can do anything he wants. A part of this sensation is shared with a viewer due to carefully elaborated cinematography by Andrew Lesnie.
Manhattan is shown mostly in extreme long shots. Wide streets with abandoned cars and wild animals create a sense of utmost loneliness. Will Smith drives his sport cars and it seems like somebody cleared the streets for him so that this shots would look even more impressive. These long takes following the car look epic and create a sincere feeling of desolation. The camera follows main character during the whole movie. Whether it is a long shot of the abandoned city or a full shot of Richard Neville with a dummy, a viewer constantly observes him from the side.
Three years of loneliness leave a mark on Richards mental condition. His only companion is his dog. It is clear that he loves that dog very much and it is no wonder that he talks to it, as a lot of people do that even in the pre-apocalyptic world. But Richard shows another symptom of his mental disorder. The symptom is that he is talking to the dummies in the store. It is not really clear whether he is doing it for fun or if there is something completely wrong with this guy. At least it is not clear until one of the scenes in the second part of the movie which shows an extreme state of Will Smiths character. He comes to one of the female dummies in the store and starts talking to it. At this point it becomes obvious that he truly believes that this dummy can answer him and he feels really disappointed when it does not. The chain of events that leads to this dramatic scene is long, and it includes the death of his beloved dog and yet another encounter with a dummy. Will Smiths performance is one of the strongest aspects of this movie. He carries almost all of its running time on his own shoulders. He really shines in this role and it gives him the space to deliver a great acting. Among other leading characters are dog and purely drawn CGI monsters which leave a very bad impression every time they appear on the screen.
As any other lonely character, Richard Neville becomes quite selfish and egoistic. His main activity besides watching old movies and exploring an empty island is trying to create a cure for a zombie virus. For this purpose he catches zombies one by one to be his guinea pigs and tries his vaccine on them. And time after time it just kills his pigs. But Richard strongly believes that he is the last survivor on the whole planet. Therefore, his actions are intended just for his own satisfaction. In the world full of zombies he is the one that does not fit in. And still he tries to cure them. He sincerely thinks that his actions will bring good results but he is not even sure of these results. And still he hunts zombies, risking his own life and ending many other lives.
I Am Legend tells a story of a lonely man on a lonely road. Alone. Character development shows a few steps of Richard Neville in a world that is not suited for men. Will Smith carries a heavy performance in almost a solo movie. Cinematographer Andrew Lesnie delivers some beautiful long shots that help a viewer to immerse into the atmosphere of total loneliness.
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