Inkheart (2009) Review

There’s an uncanny valley for film entertainment that becomes more apparent the older a viewer becomes. One day, teenage romcoms where the awkward new kid uses his or her differences to outwit the school bully and land the campus heartthrob does it for you. The next day, that kind of plot is childish, shallow and unbelievable. Some films try to appeal to a broad audience by including characters that represent most age groups, but these stories often end up just as flat since the characters are usually little more than tokens. Inkheart is one of the rare films that stands at the threshold between adult and children’s movies and successfully delivers a thoroughly satisfying theater experience.

Inkheart is based on the first book of the Inkheart series penned by Cornelia Funke. Regrettably, I haven’t read any of the books, so I can’t comment on how faithful the film is to the source material. The film version revolves around ordinary people who have the extraordinary ability to bring to life anything they read aloud. These people are known as Silvertongues for their unmatched speaking ability. While this sounds like a pretty good deal, the catch is that when something comes out of the book, something from the real world has to go in. For Mortimer “Mo” Folchart (Brendan Fraser), this is a rude surprise when he discovers his power and unleashes villains from the book Inkheart into the world and loses his wife into the book. This leaves him to raise his daughter, Meggie (Eliza Hope Bennett), alone. As the years go by, Mo becomes obsessed with Inkheart, searching the globe for it in the hopes of reading his wife out of the book. Meanwhile, the villains he unleashed have acclimated to the real world and have selfish plans for Mo and his family.

Inkheart is a pleasure to behold on almost every level. This is because the film’s foundation is strong. Brendan Fraser delivers a steady performance that allows him a bit of room to step out of his action persona and flex his dramatic acting chops. It’s not a lot of room, mind you, but enough to build a deeper character. Eliza Hope Bennett plays her Meggie as the most mature 12-year-old that ever lived, but she is nonetheless completely believable during the climax when she does her part to thwart the bad guys. Paul Bettany, however, steals the show with his portrayal of Dustfinger. Not only is the character cool to begin with – he can manipulate fire with his bare hands and has folk-guitar theme music – but he’s probably the most faceted, as well. He’s often scared, angry, deceitful, but also sometimes heroic and loving and each emotion comes through Bettany’s instrument beautifully.

The writing is also very clever, though having not read the book it’s hard to know who to praise. Nevertheless, it’s refreshing to see each character dealt with fairly and realistically. That way when Elinor (Helen Mirren) does her part to save the day, it comes across as smart and witty rather than formulaic. Of course, it certainly helps that Mirren is clearly having fun playing the role.

While there’s plenty for adults to appreciate, younger audiences will also enjoy how accommodating Inkheart is to their tastes. There’s light action, a very tame romance between Meggie and a young book character and there’s even a cuddly ferret to warm their hearts. This is a film that’s easy to watch with the whole family.

If I had to nitpick, the only aspect that sometimes took me out of the experience was the visual effects. When the Silvertongue uses his or her power to bring objects or people into the real world, the camera simply shakes and the sound gets an echo. Then whatever is summoned either falls from the sky or simply runs into the room. This is in stark contrast to other superb visual effects in the film like the summoning of The Shadow, which is a colossal monster made from fire and ash. A little more pizzazz in some areas would have gone a long way even out the visuals.

As a viewer standing on the adult side of the cinematic threshold, I can honestly state that I had a great time watching Inkheart. I only wished the film had resolved itself differently and that there would be a Silvertongue duel in a library, with each reader plucking all of the despicable and beloved characters from the books around them to fight each other until one of the Silvertongues picked up the Holy Bible and read Revelations, summoning Death himself. Alas. On the other hand, there are other books in the series and since audiences shouldn’t miss Inkheart, I may get my wish yet via one of the sequels.