Arts movie review

Get it right: a gunslinger shoots with his gun, not his heart

Stephen King’s The Dark Tower is adapted into a less-than-stellar film

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Tom Taylor and Idris Elba in The Dark Tower.
Courtesy of Sony Pictures


The Dark Tower

Directed by Nikolaj Arcel

Based on The Dark Tower VII: The Dark Tower by Stephen King

Starring Idris Elba, Matthew McConaughey, Tom Taylor, Katheryn Winnick

PG-13, Now Playing

I confess that I have yet to read a Stephen King novel, although I suspect the complexity of the original novel series was simplified for this 95 minute film. King’s strong concept comes through in yet another film adaptation, although just barely. The film version of The Dark Tower is a solid narrative that I enjoyed as a stand alone film and, at times, impressed me with its quick pacing and cohesive writing, but it was too riddled with mediocre writing to watch favorably.

Cities tremble in the face of multiple earthquakes all over Earth. A young boy, Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor), sees visions of a dark tower, the last gunslinger Roland (Idris Elba), and the Man in Black (Matthew McConaughey) in his dreams. His father is dead, leaving his mother Laurie (Katheryn Winnick) and her new husband to take care of Jake. After escaping two “social workers” and passing through a portal, Jake enters Mid-World, the fantastical home of his visions, where he meets Roland and the two journey to face the Man in Black.

Elba plays a cool-headed Roland, a man whose compassion is hidden beneath the veneer of grief and its consequent vengeance. Casting McConaughey as Walter, the Man in Black, was a genius move. He comes across as sinister without being devoid of humor and is quite possibly my favorite character in the film.

But this simplicity in character comes at a cost. A fast-paced plot means loose elements are never developed. Aside from Roland and Walter, the other characters are entirely defined by their relation to Jake. His mother is caring and misses him, his father is dead and is missed by him. The psychologist is your typical unsympathetic professional. His friend is mild support. Not much else is learned, and consequently, the film feels hollow. Don’t even get me started on the gunslinger oath (see title of article).

Fortunately, the film’s central plot is cohesive enough: a lonely boy who sees too much meets a man who lost his will to fight. The gunslinger and Jake empathize with each other, both having lost their fathers. While the dead may never come back — and yes, many people die in this film — our protagonists find what they’ve been searching for: Jake finds a father figure in Roland while the gunslinger finds the will to fight from Jake.

Despite its glaring clichés and maudlin moments, The Dark Tower strikes a rare balance: concise yet detailed, sentimental yet sincere. If you watch the film without questioning anything (that is what I resigned to do), then it is quite enjoyable. That is the highest praise I will give it. Otherwise, the core narrative is a staple in the fantasy genre, nothing remarkable. The film tells a simple story, and although simplicity would be sufficient for some other film, it is not for this adaptation.