Carriers (2009)

A lot of movies, in my opinion, are good in spite of their protagonists.  “Carriers” (2009) is good in large part BECAUSE of Chris Pine.  Granted, there are other good performances, and the writing is really tight, but Pine is the first thing that will grab you (not inappropriately… I don’t think).  While this isn’t the first pandemic movie I’ve seen, it’s the first I’ve seen that skips right over the appearance and devastation of the pandemic (the writhing, putrid meat and potatoes of most disease-themed movies) and takes us straight to the bleak aftermath.  It’s a post-apocalyptic pandemic procedural (wipes spit off screen) and buddy-road-trip  that would only have been an educational B-movie without the depth and charisma of Pine’s perfect performance (wipes screen again).  Now that I’m done kissing his ass, let’s start the review.

The movie begins like “Buckaroo Banzai” with the way things were: home movies of a happy family playing on a beach.  It jarringly transitions to an unknown group of people driving, and we slowly gather that these are the same boys from the home movies, now grown up and driving a car painted with the words “Road Warrior” – an homage to the greatest post apoc road trip story ever told.

The four main characters, alpha Brian (Pine), liability Danny (Pucci), Brian’s girlfriend Bobby (Perabo), and Danny’s “just a friend” Kate (VanCamp) seem awfully jovial to be drinking inside a stolen Mercedes, until they come upon the second best character in the film: Frank (Meloni).  This scene is pure gold, and single handedly sets up the circumstances and stakes of the film.  Chris Meloni is simply amazing here, and we start to get a feeling for what will become Brian’s defining trait – his unwavering devotion to getting his monkey circle to safety, regardless of the moral obstacles.

Danny has some expository narration that explains the pandemic, but I honestly don’t think it was necessary.  The film adequately conveys everything we need to know visually, and the voiceover feels redundant, but does provide a kind of bookend mirroring the ending of the film – still, I’d have left it out.

As capable as Brian seems to be, he shows a blatant irresponsibility (i.e. drinking and driving) that puts him at odds with Danny, who, very much like Columbus in “Zombieland”, survives by measured caution. Brian is more like Ash of the Evil Dead trilogy – he’s often an irresponsible asshole, but survives by sheer, ice-cold will and determination.  Pine does an excellent job of showing how much he cares about the other characters, even while berating them, and gets me emotionally invested in their relationships early on – this is absolutely essential in order for me to give a shit.  Take a note, prospective filmmakers.  Audience giving a shit = points in your favor.

The writing is also damn near seamless.  For example, there’s no way I’d have bought them allowing an infected person into their vehicle, but the way they play it out makes me believe that there simply wasn’t any other option, and the performances by Pine and Meloni only make it all the more convincing.  So, while the decision ultimately leads to the main conflict in the film, it doesn’t feel cheap or forced at all.  I’m glad the writers made the decision unavoidable instead of relying on an act of kindness to progress the plot, as that would’ve spit in the sharpie’d-on-face of what we’ve just established about Brian – he doesn’t give a fuck about strangers… remember this, because it’s a recurring theme. The other three protags’ performances pale in comparison, but Pucci and VanCamp succeed by playing it safely subtle in comparison to Pine’s energy.

It turns out that they’re headed back to the beach featured in the film’s opening.  People are always heading toward the coast in post apoc films: “The Road”, “The Book of Eli” and “Road Warrior” to name a few. I understand the idea that you go toward the water… but salt water?  I suppose life returns to the place it originated to mirror the regression of society?  Personally, I’d be heading for the hills in a temperate, deciduous climate and planting my ass next to some running, navigable fresh water.  Then again, they have to be heading SOMEWHERE in these movies, and beaches make for both a nice ending backdrop and a visualization of the idea that the travelers can go no further.

We briefly see people who hunt and murder the infected, but their presence is NEVER SPOKEN OF NOR SEEN AGAIN.  This might actually have been an interesting antagonist to introduce to give Brian a target to lob his .45 slugs at constructively… alas, a potentially interesting but ultimately unutilized story arc – feels like I’m watching “Lost” again.

Speaking of Brian’s .45, it’s an M1911A1 – a man after my own heart.  In fact, “Carriers” features some of the most apt survivalist firearms, including an AK-47, a Remington 870, and even one of my personal favorite oldies-but-goodies, the Winchester 1897.  If you ever manage to get your hands on an 1897, send it to Squibber at Old Western Gun Repair LLC.  He took mine from a rusted out mess to a fully functioning shotgun capable of firing modern shells.  Anyway, back to the review…

The group stops at a hospital where a cure is supposedly being developed, but are instead faced with a difficult moral predicament that further characterizes and differentiates our heroes.  Frank must ask himself, when is it okay, or even proper, to give up?  At what point are you only prolonging the inevitable and putting yourself and others through unnecessary pain?  Frank ultimately decides that being with and comforting his daughter during her last moments is more important than his own survival, and it’s Frank’s daughter who acts as the next catalyst in the film by infecting Bobby.  Bobby, in turn, chooses not to tell anyone for fear of being left behind, despite that knowledge that she may infect the others.  Under the circumstances, though, her fear is extremely understandable.  It is this choice, though, juxtaposed with Brian and Kate’s decision to abandon Frank and his daughter,  that foreshadows the eventual consequences of Bobby’s selfishness.  Nice girls finish last, Bobby.

Danny and Bobby represent compassion and humanity – what is good in people, and what they are trying to retain despite their circumstances.  Brian and Kate, however, are admirable in their own way, not allowing anything to stand in the way of their survival.  Are they cold hearted?  Absolutely.  Is that a bad thing?  Not in this case, it’s not – it’s an advantage.  In the end, what matters is who’s alive and who’s lying dead with a clear conscience.

Bobby’s selfishness is affirmed when she allows Brian to kiss her.  Sure, she objects, but she doesn’t prevent it.  They stumble upon a well stocked hotel at a golf course – they don’t seem very cautious about scouting the place before walking in.  Danny is beginning to show “Whoa, how did you buddy learn the kamehameha?” more confidence, and it’s this confidence which may have caused him to also forego scouting the hotel, which would seem like something he’d insist on.  So, of course the hotel is occupied by the windmill people.  The windmill people can hardly be seen as antagonists, however, as they’re simply trying to ensure their survival as well, and part of that involves defending their territory and resources from the possible infected.

At this point, after a “Jurassic Park” moment in the kitchen where Danny and Kate show that they at least know the first rule of violent conflict (procure weaponry), the writers inject a bit of what feels like artificial antagonism – just like the soldiers in “28 Days Later”, the windmill people suddenly get all rape-happy and try to kidnap and strip Bobby and Kate… but UH OH.  Bobby’s got something between her legs that you can’t fight off with topical cream.

The quartet eventually escape thanks to Bobby’s unsightly rash, but now Brian is confronted with the same question that Frank had to face… and Brian chooses to abandon his screaming girlfriend by the roadside in order to save Danny.  I truly believe that if not for Danny’s presence, Brian might have kept Bobby around, believing himself to be immune.  However, his top priority is his brother’s survival, and he’s not willing to risk it.  Also, it might be argued that Brian could’ve stayed behind with Bobby and allowed Danny and Kate to take the vehicle and continue, but I think Brian realizes that Danny isn’t ready to make the hard decisions necessary in order to survive – a fact which becomes very apparent in short order.  So, again, I think the writing and acting are tight enough to sell this.  Even to me.

I guess not everybody got the memo about the many-fucks-not-given by Brian.  After Danny fails to talk some gasoline out of some middle-aged women, Brian walks up andshoots them.  Yep.  Shoots them dead.  Again, yes, I realize this is murder, but who can say they wouldn’t make the same choice in this case?  The lives of strangers weigh very little when compared against the life of your only remaining family.  Brian takes a bullet himself in the fray and begins to lose consciousness from blood loss.  Danny stops at a house to look for medical supplies, but breaks a rule of post apoc survival in the process: never stop at a house right off the main road – it’s probably been picked clean by other passers by, and you run the risk of walking in on occupiers who might see you as a threat.

Anyhoo, the house does afford him the opportunity to finally test his courage without Brian there to protect him, and also gives him the opportunity to take his first life – albeit canine.  After killing the dog and emerging from the house, we get the feeling that Danny has overcome a great deal and might be ready to… oh… oh shit… : (

Sure enough, Brian is infected.  Now Danny must make the same hard choice, and he shows that Brian’s lessons have not fallen on deaf ears.  Not only does he abandon Brian, but Brian forces Danny’s hand in killing him.  I felt that Brian knew the stakes, and intentionally put Danny into a situation where his only recourse was to kill his older brother – it was the last, and most important, lesson that Brian could teach him, and I think that Danny has now shed his last remaining weakness, and is ready to survive in what’s left of the world without Brian. “My little brother, I taught him everything he knows” – Brian’s last worlds – put it best.

In the narrated epilogue, Danny mentions twice that he feels alone, despite Kate’s presence.  He walks away from Kate and instead remembers his brother, showing us that without Brian he has truly lost the only other person important to him.  Perhaps he will eventually find companionship in Kate, but the film doesn’t end with Danny next to Kate… it ends with Danny standing alone.  This is very important, and very symbolic.  Danny is ready to stand alone, and doesn’t NEED anyone else anymore.  He opens a bin full of dead crabs which are crawling with cockroaches, and allows a few to crawl on his hand. The roach is the ultimate survivor, and this is another of the film’s final messages: even on the rotting corpse of the old world, life will go on.

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