Movie Review: “Maggie”

Arnold Schwarzenegger, Abigail Breslin, Joely Richardson, Aiden Flowers
Henry Hobson

Arnold Schwarzenegger’s return to the big screen hasn’t been as triumphant as it should’ve been. In addition to the abominable David Ayer picture, “Sabotage,” the former California governor has appeared in a number of disappointing efforts, including his charismatic cameos in the consistently underwhelming “Expendables” franchise. But for the first time in a long time, not only does Schwarzenegger star in a film worthy of his name, but one that’s way out of his comfort zone, lending considerable emotional depth to the deadly serious zombie drama, “Maggie.”

A few months after the necroambulist virus struck the nation, the rate of infection is beginning to dwindle. Day by day, there are less infected roaming the streets. In no way is the country returning to normal, though, with many families and loved ones still being torn apart by the disease. Wade Vogel (Schwarzenegger) is a Midwest father of three. His oldest daughter from a previous marriage, Maggie (Abigail Breslin), escapes from home after becoming infected with the virus in fear of harming her family. This doesn’t stop Wade from searching for his daughter, and once she’s found, Maggie is brought home. But she only has a few weeks left to live, and it’s up to Wade whether to have her quarantined or kill her himself before she “turns.”

That’s about as much plot as there is in director Henry Hobson’s film. Don’t expect Arnold to fight off zombies or search for the cure to his daughter’s illness. “Maggie” is driven far more by character than story. It’s a quiet, slow burn – albeit a little too slow at times. Even with a 95-minute running time, writer John Scott 3’s screenplay is pretty thin, and although that’s acceptable because it’s not the film’s priority, even for what it is, “Maggie” could have used a few trims and some tightening up.

Where the movie excels is as a performance piece. The 67-year-old Schwarzenegger has never had his “Cop Land” – a film that, like it did for Sylvester Stallone, subverts the actor’s tough guy image – but he gets his chance here, because Wade doesn’t fit in Arnie’s wheelhouse. This is a completely new and different performance from the action star, with the character’s struggle and journey internalized. “Maggie” doesn’t work because it gets a surprising performance out of Schwarzenegger, however, but because it’s simply a really good performance. Wade’s pain is palpable, and the same goes for his love for his eldest daughter.

Breslin and Schwarzenegger make for a compelling pairing. Obviously, Arnie is the main appeal of “Maggie,” but Breslin’s performance is just as gripping. Both characters’ arcs are well developed within Scott 3’s script, and Breslin and Schwarzenegger are believable as father and daughter. Joely Richardson has some nice moments as Maggie’s empathetic but realistic stepmother, but almost all the side characters in the film are footnotes.

“Maggie” is deeply focused on its two stars, and not much else. The world building is sufficient enough, but it’s all background decoration. Hobson and his director of photography, Lukas Ettlin, create a dreary yet warm aesthetic, and the camerawork is reserved, inspired by the subtle performances and atmosphere. Though the movie isn’t without its faults, Hobson has crafted a fine drama, and one that overcomes its minor pacing issues thanks to a pair of emotional lead performances.