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The Dark Tower (A Movie Review)

Updated: Mar 18, 2020

The Dark Tower


Starring Idris Elba, Matthew McConaughey, Tom Taylor, Claudia Kim, Fran Kranz, Jackie Earle Haley, Dennis Haysbert, Abbey Lee Kershaw, Nicholas Hamilton, Katheryn Winnick, José Zuñiga, Victoria Nowak, Ben Gavin, Michael Barbieri and Andre Robinson.

Screenplay by Akiva Goldsman & Jeff Pinkner and Anders Thomas Jensen & Nikolaj Arcel.

Directed by Nikolaj Arcel.

Distributed by Columbia Pictures. 95 minutes. Rated PG-13.

I am going to preface this review with the statement that I have not read the Dark Tower series. Also, it drives me crazy when a movie fails in its adaption from the page to the big screen. I hate reading reviews by people who haven’t read the book first, and thus fail from the start in understanding the true story. This stands as my apology in advance to any Dark Tower series fan that I may offend by my ignorance.

As a reader, I did not have high expectations for a 1-hour, 35-minute movie condensing a tale that is held in such high regards amongst Stephen King fans (and runs over 4,000 pages in eight books). Throwing expectations aside, The Dark Tower was clever and fast paced, with slick effects, captivating scenery, well developed characters and a compelling soundtrack.

The movie opens with a dystopian dream sequence. It is a glimpse into a world where children live in fear of being tortured to try to destroy the Dark Tower, a structure that keeps the darkness and monsters at bay in the universe. As the chosen child is tortured in one of these feared attempts, an earthquake awakens Jake Chambers, our teenage main character, played by Tom Taylor.

Jake lives in New York City, with his mom and her significant other. His life is challenged by violent dreams, which lead to sleepless nights. He spends his days creating haunting drawings of his dream characters in his sketch book. His mom has him seeing a counselor, who attributes his dreams and sketches to Jake’s father’s traumatic death.

After an incident at school, an arrangement is made to send Jake away for a weekend of in-patient care at a mental-health-focused boarding school. Jake sullenly agrees, believing that the situation is hurting his mother. He removes his sketches from his wall, with hope for one good night of sleep. He dreams of the Man in Black, Walter, (played by Matthew McConaughey) antagonizing a man while he dies. Then, the dream focuses on the Gunslinger, Roland, (played by Idris Elba), in battle with the help of his father.  Walter kills the Gunslinger’s father and sets Roland on his path for vengeance.

When Jake wakes, he remembers a landmark building in his dream and enlists help from the internet to figure out where the building is located (in Brooklyn!). His mom tells him it is time to for him to go to the facility. When he meets the handlers, he recognizes them as fake-skinned people from his dreams and is forced to escape. He heads to the Brooklyn dream building, which is really an old abandoned house that turns out to be a no-longer-used portal to his dream world. Bravely, Jake takes the portal and we are introduced to the harsh, desert landscape of his dream world. Jake is just happy to realize that this has all indeed been real and is not just in his mind. Jake and Roland connect and adventure ensues.

The story becomes a game of cat and mouse with Walter chasing Roland and Jake back and forth between worlds, tracking Jake by his “shine” (a term frequently used by Stephen King for psychic ability) after realizing that he is the child strong enough to take down the Dark Tower.

Stephen King has created rich characters in this series; heroes like Roland and Jake have depth and courage and heart; villains like Walter play to your fear and weakness; controlling your thoughts and actions until death.

Idris Elba personifies the quiet strength and focus of Roland, our Gunslinger hero. He is a man who has lost all that he loves as the one Gunslinger left standing who can resist the mind control of Walter. We watch as Roland and Jake grow to trust one another, forming a team that they both need.

Matthew McConaughey is unnerving as he arrogantly controls people to “stop breathing,” his death command of choice. He also emotionlessly speaks “kill each other” to characters who have wronged him while instructing the bystanders in the scene to “enjoy the show” as he slips out of the cafe. He is deadly and evil and a master sorcerer to boot. Aside from his anger about his inability to control Roland, we blindly accept that Walter is just true evil with no further back story. There is no need; we want someone to hate. Walter wants to destroy the Dark Tower and with it, unleash further evil into all the worlds of the universe.  It is his unwavering path of evil regardless of the means to reach his goal.

The action and effects were even better than what was promised in the movie’s trailer. I could watch Roland reloading his weapons for hours… but I digress. The movie’s score meshed perfectly with the effects and kept you on the edge of your seat. It was particularly effective in a slow-motion scene where Roland is reciting his Gunslinger creed preparing to take his shot, hit his mark and save Jake from being taken for tower torture. I will likely watch this scene on repeat for years to come.

The writers win a close second prize for a story with wit and heart; drama and action. They handled the anachronisms of inter-world travel with ease and playfully wrote Roland’s dialogue when confronted with our healthcare and street food.

This is a very watchable, entertaining movie and I look forward to watching it again with my teenager. I am also moving The Dark Tower series up higher in my “to read” queue to see what I’ve missed by starting with the film.

Bonnie Paul

Copyright ©2017 All rights reserved. Posted: August 4, 2017.

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