Cast and Crew
- Will Smith ... Robert Neville
- Alice Braga ... Anna
- Charlie Tahan ... Ethan
- Salli Richardson ... Zoe
- Willow Smith ... Marley
Directed by Francis Lawrence (Constantine). Screenplay by Mark Protosevich (The Cell) and Akiva Goldsman (The Da Vinci Code). Based on the novel by Richard Matheson and previous screenplay by John William Corrington and Joyce Corrington (for The Omega Man (1971), a previous adaptation starring Charlton Heston). Cinematography by Andrew Lesnie (The Lord of the Rings). Production Design by David Lazan and Naomi Shohan (Constantine). Art Direction by William Ladd Skinner and Patricia Woodbridge (Music and Lyrics). Film Editing by Wayne Wahrman (Constantine).
Last Man Standing
A refitted virus designed to cure cancer has gone horribly awry, doling out grusome death to 90 percent of the world's population and transforming almost all of the rest of humanity into sun-intolerant, bloodthirsty mutants.
By day virologist Robert Neville prowls the grass-grown hulk of a dead Manhattan, alone apart from his German Shepherd Sam, hunting the wild deer that now bound through the deserted streets when he's not in the lab under his Washington Square townhouse still desperately seeking a cure to reverse the plague that has already ravaged the world. He himself is immune, but has met only frustration in trying to pass his immunity on to the infected. His daily desolate plea to meet any other survivors at the South Street Seaport, near the destroyed hulk of the Brooklyn Bridge, echoes emptily through the radio bands.
By night his home becomes a fortress. The moment the sun escapes the sky the creatures stream forth from the dark hives in which they wait out the day, seeking blood. They have become aware of this lone survivor walking the streets of New York, killing them when he finds them. An alpha male among the once-human creatures, inflamed with animal passion, has become obsessed with finding Neville and destroying him.
As Neville clings desperately to the shreds of his sanity and to Sam after three years alone in an increasingly wild and post-human New York, he is tracked down by the creatures and targeted with his own traps, leaving him to wonder whether there's any future for himself and for humanity.
Post-Apocalyptic Sole Survivor
The obvious comparison is to 28 Days Later and other empty-city thrillers, but in some ways I Am Legend has the greatest resonance with Tom Hanks's performance as the marooned Chuck Noland in Cast Away (2000). Both films explore the effects of prolonged isolation from human contact, driving their heroes to the edge of reason as their solitary lives become increasingly unbearable. And both films are carried by outstanding performes by a lead actor who must shoulder an entire story virtually alone, with the limited opportunities for dialog making extremely tricky the task of keeping an audience engaged and sympathetic while slipping further and further away from normal behavior. Smith's powerful performance here should convince any remaining naysayers that he is one of the more talented and effective actors of his generation.
The difference for Smith's character, as opposed to Hanks's Noland, is two-fold. First, Neville is moving through the ruined shards of his former life, walking empty broken streets that once thronged with hapless New Yorkers. And second, he is both hunter and hunted, pursued by vicious, vampiric mutants waiting for him to make a fatal mistake. Neville limply deals with the former by arraying shop window mannequins as random shoppers in the DVD store he visits every day, using them as an excuse for dialog in his otherwise silent days -- on good days gaily, on bad days with a wretched starvation for interaction with another human soul. The second he copes with by stockpiling weapons and pursuing the cure, though some days hope is in short supply.
Arresting Visuals Match a Riveting Performance
There are plot holes in I Am Legend, largely from the film's stubborn focus on Neville that sidetracks explanatory exposition. (Why the alpha male has fixated on Neville to the point of engaging in deviant behavior, for example, is underexplored.) Fans of the novel should be largely pleased, though key elements have been changed: here Neville is a scientist, rather than an ordinary man who learns virology because it has to be done. Sam emerges here as his daughter's puppy, rather than a stray whom Neville befriends for companionship.
And yes, the presence of this beautiful dog, though performing the same function as in the book, is part of the film's heartstring-tugging: in fact I Am Legend boasts two (2) doe-eyed children in danger and two (2) supremely steadfast and lovable dogs, if you count Sam twice (as a puppy, licking Smith's face in flashbacks, and as a still-face-licking adult). This Shepherd, at least, is not as gratuitous as the plucky, stunt-performing dogs in Independence Day or Inferno: Sam is a character, and as necessary as Wilson the soccer ball. Smith's musclebound physique would be a distraction, except the filmmakers show rigorous daily workouts as part of Neville's coping-mechanism routine.
The cinematography, by the renouned Andrew Lesnie, and special effects have created a thoroughly realistic abandoned New York, made all the more haunting by glimpses of a panicked, pre-apocalypse city. I Am Legend isn't a sci-fi shoot-em-up or a zombie monster mash: it's an intimate portrait of a man who's lost everything, including the entire world.