Film Review: “Snow White and the Huntsman”

by Jason LeRoy on June 1, 2012

Charlize Theron in SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN

starring: Kristen Stewart, Charlize Theron, Chris Hemsworth, Sam Claflin, Ian McShane, Bob Hoskins, Nick Frost, Toby Jones

written by: Evan Daugherty, John Lee Hancock, Hossein Amini

directed by: Rupert Sanders

MPAA: Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, and brief sensuality

Everything looks absolutely amazing in Snow White and the Huntsman, the feature-length debut of director Rupert Sanders and story/screenplay writer Evan Daugherty. I mean, we’ve all seen the trailer, right? We already know it’s going to look great. The art direction, the costume design, the cinematography, the special effects, Charlize Theron’s face, Chris Hemsworth’s abs — everything looks incredible. And while this is a far more successful attempt at a darkly gothic retelling of a fairy tale than, say, Catherine Hardwicke’s nearly Showgirls-level Red Riding Hood, it still suffers a bit under its novice director and overwrought script.

Basically the fable of Snow White retold for the Game of Thrones generation, the film starts with an effectively ominous prologue about the royal birth of Snow White, the death of her mother, and the arrival of evil soon-to-be-queen Ravenna (Theron), who seduces Snow White’s father, the king, after he “rescues” her from a darkly mysterious army of incorporeal soldiers sporting matching high ponytails as if prepared to walk in a McQueen show. But Ravenna (a name the inhabitants of northeastern Ohio will agree is perfect for an evil queen) doesn’t waste much time before staging a lethal coup, vanquishing the king and banishing Snow White to an isolated tower before quickly assuming the throne. That’s so Raven-na! (Sorry.)

Fast forward a few years, and Snow White has grown into a lovely but dirty young woman (Kristen Stewart) despite still being trapped in the tower. Meanwhile, Ravenna’s troubling habit of fishing for compliments from a massive gold disc reveals to her that, for the first time since she became queen, there is another woman in the kingdom fairer than her: Camille Grammer Snow White. She is informed that Snow White’s beauty will either destroy her forever or provide her with eternal salvation — and the latter can only be accomplished if she consumes Snow’s heart. But Ravenna has been extending her beauty by somehow inhaling the youth of younger women for decades, so she’s just like, “Oh, okay,” and reaches for her lobster bib.

Not so fast! When Ravenna’s creepy brother, Stow Finn (Sam Spruell), tries to score one last trapped princess fondle for the road, Snow White attacks him and escapes from the castle, fleeing deep into the dark forest. Ravenna flies into a rage, tearing off her lobster bib and throwing it to the ground as she demands the instant return of Snow White and her heart (which basically seems to function as an exfoliating moisturizer). Finn goes into town and finds the Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth), a rowdy drunk with nothing to lose; after Ravenna promises to bring his wife back from the dead if he does her bidding, the Hunts– well, let’s call him Hunty for short — Hunty sets off into the dark forest to retrieve Snow White. But when he finally finds her, Hunty has a change of heart, takes her side, odyssey across the countryside with queen’s henchmen in hot pursuit, little people, poisoned apple, etc.

Snow White and the Huntsman is at its best when sticking to its bleak, unforgiving Grimm Brothers darkness. It contains not a shred of humor until the introduction of Hunty at the end of the first act; flinty and charming, Hemsworth gives arguably the film’s most focused and successful performance. I was actually beginning to hope the seven dwarves would be written out altogether, because Hemsworth adds just the right amount of comic energy. But inevitably the dwarves arrive, controversially played by non-little person actors like Bob Hoskins, Ian McShane, and Nick Frost; and with the dwarves, a broader sense of comic relief that disrupts the film’s sinister power. They are one of several elements of the story which can’t help but call to mind the Disney version; Snow White’s resurrection kiss feels similarly out of place in these stark, desolate proceedings. Which is a shame, because otherwise Sanders does succeed at telling the story of Snow White without ever suggesting a movie for children (despite the disappointingly neutered PG-13 carnage).

Less than successful, sadly, are Sanders’ two leading ladies. I happen to think that Kristen Stewart is a very gifted actress, despite her lucrative yet widely mocked work in the Twilight films. And for the first half of Snow White, she is luminous and compelling as the hunted, fearful princess. There is a minimum of lip-biting, and I only counted one trademark nervous exhale. But when she is called upon to begin transforming into a warrior, Stewart doesn’t quite rise to the occasion. She does her best with a Braveheart-style battle speech, but seems entirely too nervous and flinchy to really sell it. Worst of all is her supposed-to-be-triumphant final shot, in which she is almost comically fidgety.

And then there is the complex matter of Theron’s performance. Based on the trailers, I’m pretty sure we all agreed that she was the number-one reason to see this movie. And then she did that evil queen-themed episode of Top Chef, and we were all like, “Oh man, that’s kind of weird, but still: we can’t wait!” Well here we are at last, and this isn’t quite the performance we were hoping for. I mean yes, as I said before, she looks absolutely amazing. And when she is silent, or speaking quietly, she is perfect. But in a misguided effort to flesh out the character, Theron acts many of her scenes with a distractingly overplayed sense of insecurity, all tremulous mouth and tearful eyes, coupled with an almost animalistic sense of woundedness. She is also directed to scream many of her lines, which is just unfortunate. This is a risky and unexpected performance, and while I applaud Theron for refusing to play Ravenna the obvious way, she was considerably more resonant playing another scheming queen clinging desperately to her youth in Young Adult.

Snow White and the Huntsman opens nationwide today.

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