Movies go through changes all the time in the production phase. However, the movie adaptation of 2008’s The Knife of Never Letting Go by Doug Liman has seen its fair share. Chaos Walking was first announced back in 2011 and has been through the hands of Charlie Kaufman, John Lee Hancock, Lindsey Beer, and more. With many script adaptations to follow for years to come, Doug Liman was chosen to be the director in 2016, and shooting began in 2017. There was an original April 2019 release date planned that got moved because of extensive reshoots, and after many years of back and forth, the movie finally lands in 2021. (did you get all of that?)
The film introduces us to a colony planet called the New World. Because of some phenomenon that happens, something called ‘the noise affects all the males in this colony. That means that it displays all their thoughts in a virtual reality-like projection. Todd Hewitt (Tom Holland), a well-to-do, easy-going citizen of Prentisstown, has a bit of trouble controlling his noise. He often tries to talk it down, and it gets him into a bit of trouble with people. As shown further, some men in this colony can turn their noise into projections. Mayor Prentiss (Mads Mikkelsen) is probably the best among everybody in doing this. Thus uses this to his advantage in a power grab. At a young age, Todd loses his mother, as with every women in the colony. There’s a sign that there’s a father figure relationship between the Mayor and Todd, but revelations about why this really happened come later.
Everything gets through into disarray when a ship crash lands on the New World. The only survivor is Viola Eade (Daisy Ridley), a person who was sent on a mission to scout for settlers. She is found by Todd who has never seen a woman before in his life. His noise goes out of control at first and even makes for some unintentionally funny moments. When Viola’s presence is discovered by the colony of men, Todd then risks his life to save a stranger that he doesn’t even know. From there, the film progresses in a race against time. They get chased throughout different terrains of the New World, discovering other colonies and learning about each other.
An issue you run into with so many rewrites and reshoots is that a film can feel disjointed. Sometimes there’s so much tinkered with that scenes feel like they are from another movie entirely. Chaos Walking, while containing an intriguing premise within, feels like a few mini-movies inside a major one. Despite a great cast and a lot of foundational pieces to work with, Chaos Walking chooses not to dive into its most interesting parts. There’s a subplot involving aliens that Todd calls Spackle. From his days in the colony, he is told that they are enemies and while encountering one; he threatens to kill it. Viola then tells him to stop and reconsider why he’s doing this. Other than this, the aliens are never referred to again.
Other than wanting to figure out the origin of Viola’s ship, there’s nothing more to Mayor Prentiss’s motive. Does he want to gain access to the ship in hopes of a grand plan? Chaos Walking chalks this up to ambiguity where the audience has to fill in the blanks. The far more interesting plot point comes from his history coupled with a preacher named Aaron (David Oyelowo). Given ‘the noise’ and the fact that Viola is shown not to have it (women don’t on this planet) gives a clue to the Mayor’s more evil nature. Holland and Ridley do the most with what they are provided, and it’s where the film excels. With Viola not having the noise, that creates a new dynamic for Todd. He has to lean on guessing what she’s thinking. Sometimes it could prove embarrassing. All the while, he’s an open book.
As he learns to control his emotions, and they encounter hardship, they develop a friendship. While Viola teaches Todd about himself, Todd becomes Viola’s tour guide. Born on the ship, she’s never seen something like rain or had to contend with the elements. What they both lack ends up being a strength for another platonically. As the movie goes from chase to land discovery, it feels like it’s repeating itself until a temporary stop at a settlement called Farbranch. It’s seemly untouched from the turmoil that happened at Prentisstown and allows our principal characters time to breathe.
The biggest flaw that Chaos Walking has is that it doesn’t allow itself into the potentially great pieces within it. Here and there, the film shows you it can balance its sci-fi encasement and emotional beats. However, in spreading itself so thin, it loses focus of the interesting parts of the story.
Photo Credit: Lionsgate