FAULT Reviews: The Secret Life of Walter Mitty


As the weather gets worse, the music gets intolerable and the country is plunged into darkness by 3pm, the cinemas become filled with films that attempt to spin the season into fantasy, chastising our inner Scrooge with visions of children laughing and chestnuts roasting by an open fire. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, which opens on Boxing Day, steps away from this model (there are no fairylights or carols) but carries the same sentiment; the anti-­hero stuck in the corporate machine is reminded that there’s more to life and surrenders his suit and tie for love, joy and a new-­found selflessness.

Coming, as it does, in the infant stage of Ben Stiller’s directorial career, Mitty bears all the hallmarks of the underdog on-­screen persona that has made Stiller one of the biggest and most bankable Hollywood actors; the self-­deprecating humour, the lack of prowess with the opposite sex, the physical activity he’s just not up to (here, the volleyball of Meet the Parents is swapped for an Icelandic long-­boarding sequence).


The film is a loose adaptation of James Thurber’s short story of the same name, originally written in 1939, but it has been rebooted for the contemporary audience with a modern setting and a cast that boasts Stiller in the title role, alongside Kristen Wiig, Sean Penn and Shirley MacLaine. The modern setting works wonders and the film is packed with stunning visuals, from natural landscapes to high-­octane special effects that are used sparingly enough to act as a foil to the low-­key dialogue, and not over-­power it instead.

That said, they do occasionally get surreal enough to feel at odds with the tone of the film as a whole. Stiller and Wiig both put in good performances individually, but as a couple the chemistry is lacking and interactions between the pair feel stilted (although to be fair, Stiller character is wildly unstable and spends half of his time absorbed in the hallucinations of a schizophrenic Salvador Dali).


One thing that really stood was the soundtrack, and artists like Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros serve as good accompaniment to the wanderlust-­inducing travel montages. All in all, this film is not your typical Christmas blockbuster; it is nuanced, fairly well-­observed and filled with characters of varying complexity. Set against a stellar soundtrack and some of the world’s most beautiful landscapes, and with a motivational message to match, it’s a good film to see as you kick off 2014.

Words: Will Ballantyne-Reid