The 10-year-old inside you is probably very aware that “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” hits theaters Friday (April 4), and for good reason. The Marvel Studios sequel is great, takes the Cinematic Universe to new heights and gives Chris Evans and Scarlett Johansson meatier roles and the kind of movie-star treatment they both deserve.
But for as good as “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” is, it’s not even the best Scarlett Johansson movie opening in theaters today.
Watching “Under the Skin,” you can’t help but think about how its story and main character would be changed in a less interesting movie.
Instead of watching the mysterious woman drive through the streets of Glasgow, picking up men, a supporting character would explain the mission to her and the audience right out of the gate. Her origins would be picked apart and explained to death. There would be no confusion, because confusion doesn’t test well.
But, thankfully, that isn’t “Under the Skin.”
What Glazer gives us is an experience that could only exist as a film, taking full advantage of every cinematic element, from the camera work to the nightmarish score and a brilliantly nuanced performance from Johansson. “Under the Skin” may have started as a novel by Michel Faber, but Glazer has morphed the story into something purely fit for the big screen.
The basic premise is loosely based on Michel’s book. Johansson plays an alien who combs the lonely streets of Scotland for equally lonely men, the kind that won’t be missed if they get into a van with a beautiful stranger and are never heard from again.
Glazer is never obligated to hold hands and explain any of this explicitly, however. We get glimpses of a bigger story at work, like faint lights above the clouds and a sense that Johansson’s character is following orders from beings much more powerful than her. And that’s enough.
The lack of expository information puts the onus on the audience. It forces you to not only watch, but observe and guess, and the information gap makes it impossible to pull your eyes away from the screen.
For as brilliant as Glazer’s approach to the material is, it would all be for nothing with Johansson’s performance. Her character begins as inhumanly cruel as imaginable, never speaking an honest word to her prey, and the audience is left to interpret her actions and expressions. It’s the kind of role than lives and dies by an actor’s ability, and “Under the Skin” is a showcase for Johansson’s undeniable talent.
The character origins and motivations are just out sight, but everything you need is there. During any given point in “Under the Skin,” you might not be entirely sure what is going on, but by the end of it, you’ll know that you’ve seen something truly special.
“Under the Skin” opens in New York and LA today and expands in the next few weeks. For a full breakdown of the release schedule, head over to the official site.