Lot of foods these days carry warnings that they were made in a facility also used for processing nuts. Be forewarned that Disney’s latest holiday offering has reprocessed nothing but bits, pieces, slivers and chunks of Nutcrackery into a colorful, sumptuously produced confection with no detectable nutritional value. “The Nutcracker and the Four Realms” is an entertainment machine jam- packed with machinery. Its young heroine, Clara, is played by Mackenzie Foy. She loves science and complicated gizmos with huge cogs and wheels because her late mother was an inventor. If the film has no other value—apart from generating revenue and new theme-park rides—it may encourage young girls to become scientists.
The screenplay, by Ashleigh Powell, turns on Clara and a key. More specifically, on Clara being sent off on a journey to search for a key by her godfather, Drosselmeyer, played by Morgan Freeman with a pirate’s eye patch). That’s pretty much it for plot complexity—the girl plus the key she needs in order to open the lock on a magical Fabergé-ish egg her mother has bequeathed her.
Clara’s travels take her to the four realms of the title, the fourth one presided over by the fearsome Mother Ginger, who’s played by Helen Mirren behind a crosshatched prosthetic face. The bad news along the way concerns Phillip, a soldier and Clara’s eventual companion. He’s played by Jayden Fowora-Knight, who needed more help than he got from the production’s two directors of credit, Lasse Hallström and Joe Johnston. The good news is two-fold. Mackenzie Foy is an appealing performer from start to smarmy finish. And Keira Knightley, as the Sugar Plum Fairy, gives the film several desperately needed jolts of edgy energy. When she says “Boys in uniform with weapons send a quiver right through me,” it’s as if a svelte version of Mae West had returned on fluttery wings.
The most compelling reason to see “A Private War” is Rosamund Pike’s stunning performance as Marie Colvin—she’s the American war correspondent who died while covering the Syrian government’s 2012 siege of Homs. Outwardly cool when she can manage to be, Marie lives a life of inward terror on the border between high-strung and unstrung. But there’s another reason to see the film. It’s about someone who repeatedly risked her life to perform an act of faith—reporting from the world’s most dangerous war zones in the belief that her readers would care about the suffering she recounted. I don’t want to level accusations of saintliness at the producers and filmmakers—everyone has their own reasons, just as Colvin did—but financing and creating such a film in an increasingly crass marketplace, and an ever more violent world, is itself an act of faith that deserves support.
I’m Joe Morgenstern. I’ll be back on KCRW next week with more reviews.