It was going to be a toss-up between this, Lincoln and A Good Day To Die Hard.
Then my gut feeling went “South”-ward on account of the glowing reviews published by The Huffington Post(Thanks, HP for Android!!!). Just as The Hunger Games has proven, not every film adaptation of a Young Adult (YA) novel has to pander to the Twilight crowd (so not too many bare-chested sparkly dudes to set my masculinity in question!)
In this installment – the first of the Casters trilogy by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl – Ethan Wate (Alden Ehrenreich, channeling Taylor Lautner if he was cast as Edward instead of Jacob) dreams of moving out of his seemingly repressed burg of Gatlin, South Carolina. He sublimates his urges by devouring the works of Charles Bukowski and Harper Lee. His life then changes when he picks up Lena Duchannes (Alice Englert, a more tolerable Kristen Stewart) one rainy afternoon. He then finds out that Lena is the new girl in his class, who then gets picked upon in true grammar-school fashion; in retaliation, she then makes the classroom windows break, Carrie-fashion.
Eventually, Lena’s Uncle Macon Ravenwood (Jeremy Irons, straining at holding his Suthun accent) steps in to defend her, meanwhile admonishing her – as a budding Caster – against going out with “mortals” such as Ethan. One particularly delicious confrontation takes place at the Town Hall, where Macon faces Sarafina (Emma Thompson, also straining, but having a gleeful good time with it).
The film’s pace picks up when Lena’s cousin and best childhood friend, Riley (Emmy Rossum, looking very Anne Hathaway-esque) buzzes into town with a bright-red Beemer and a black-lace dress which….well, leaves practically nothing to one’s imagination.
We then find out that Riley is a Caster who has made her choice – as most of her kind, including Lena, do upon hitting the Sweet Sixteen mark in their lives. Macon is worried about Riley’s influence upon Lena, particularly since Lena’s Caster potential appears to be off the charts, so to say.
One has this feeling that a number of the side-stories and sub-plots were trimmed down by writer/director Richard LaGravenese, with the end teasing a sequel. That somewhat lessens the impact of the story, not enabling newbies to delve into the significance of The Claiming – where a Caster, on her 16th birthday – chooses whether to go to the “Light” or to the “Dark”. The cinematography, along with the delightfully ghostly VFX flashbacks to a Civil War battle instrumental in the founding of Gatlin, is nonetheless stunning; if this wasn’t an YA novel adaptation, I’d swear I’d smelt some bourbon in the air.