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-[Film Reviews]-, English Language Film Industries, Hollywood

‘The Secret Life of Walter Mitty’ (2013): Modern FX Revitalize an Old Story


Directed by: Ben Stiller || Produced by: Samuel Goldwyn Jr., John Goldwyn, Stuart Cornfeld, Ben Stiller

Screenplay by: Steve Conrad || Starring: Ben Stiller, Kristen Wiig, Shirley MacLaine, Adam  Scott, Kathryn Hahn,  Sean Penn, Patton Oswalt

Music by: Theodore Shapiro || Cinematography by: Stuart Dryburgh || Edited by: Greg Hayden || Country: Australia, Canada, United Kingdom, United States || Language: 114 minutes

Running Time: 114 minutes

I’ve long been a fan of Ben Stiller, particularly his writing and directing work, which to this day most people still don’t appreciate or are even aware of. As noted in an earlier post, I believe him to be one of the most underrated filmmakers working in Hollywood today, and was once again pleasantly surprised by his most recent directing effort which, thanks to my naive apprehension to the movie’s mixed critical reviews, I overlooked until now.

the secret life of walter mitty montage

If you don’t go after what you want, you’ll never have it.

Frankly I’ve been kicking myself for waiting this long to see The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (SLWM), the second film adaptation of James Thurber’s 1939 short story of the same name. The trailer caught my eye way back in early 2013 and, in hindsight, is completely accurate and up front about its narrative intentions and style (it’s not a deceptive or misleading trailer in other words). Me of little faith.

In any case, if you’ve seen any of the film’s marketing, you know exactly what you’re getting into, like I said. Though Stiller’s remake of the original daydreaming short story is more of a loose, spiritual successor re-imagined for modern times than a true adaptation, SLWM channels the lofty ideals and heartwarming feels of its literary source material effectively. True to its tagline, Stiller’s movie is about living instead of dreaming, going out into the world and living those adventures we all have floating around in our heads. This story is about taking those daydreams and turning them into reality. It’s not about pure fantasy, but rather simply walking out one’s own front door and having the courage to do new things we’ve always wanted to do.

SLWM’s theme is nothing new, but its execution and its cinematography, its visual realization of those feelgood dreams, is what makes it memorable. Stiller’s latest work is the type of introspective drama I can get on-board with, namely because its entire premise is about taking the internal and making it external. SLWM not only concerns a man making his thirst for adventure and personal expression realized, but also brings those daydream aspirations to vigorous life with a variety of fantasy-sequences that range from cute to touching to hilarious. All are visually alluring and take advantage of modern special-effects and digital filmmaking. It’s nice to see a film “modernize” a classic tale by taking advantage of its modern technological tool set, thereby actually justifying the modernization for once.

The film’s external adventure of Ben Stiller’s protagonist, a negative assets manager at the former LIFE print-magazine, further demonstrates gorgeous visuals and emotional globe-trekking, featuring dazzling location-shooting paired against a great soundtrack. Walter Mitty’s life jumps from New York to Greenland to Iceland to Afghanistan and beyond, showcasing an amazing visual and audio journey that somehow feels both fantastical and heavily relatable. Before our journey with Mitty is over, we jump off a helicopter flown by a drunk pilot into a raging ocean with ferocious sharks, we longboard across an Icelandic highway before narrowly avoiding a volcanic eruption, and even hike up the Afghani Himalayas while breaking cake with local warlords.

The magic of all this is that, no matter the impressiveness of the exotic backdrop or the eye-candy of the surrounding landscape, the camera’s focus always stays on Stiller’s Walter Mitty. While I can sort of understand critic’s anticipation of a grander, more expansive philosophical picture given the pulse-pounding music and epic visuals, SLWM is at its core an introspective character-study and makes no attempts to deviate from that premise at any point. The film is about a kindhearted but lonely and quiet individual who has to track down a negative print to avoid being fired, and during this journey he rediscovers his youthful love of adventure and regains his lost confidence. Done, straightforward, I got it!


Stiller (right) fights Scott (left) in one of the former’s imaginary fight sequences.

The only parts of the film I disliked were its comical, one-dimensional antagonist (a horribly bearded Adam Scott) and its underused and somewhat cliched love interest (Kristen Wiig). Other than that, the film is smooth-sailing given how exclusively it focuses on Stiller’s perspective.

If you’re in the mood for a contemplative yet visually competent dramady, I recommend giving this a try. It’s definitely no laugh-out-loud comedy, but its got a likable lead with a straightforward, honest story and a touching message. The script doesn’t tread much, if any, new ground as far as thematic content and character analyses are concerned, but Stiller’s strong direction and eye for detail elevate it far above the average “thought-provoking” arthouse character-study. If nothing else, it’s nice to see a non-action-oriented film, a straightforward dramatic story that appreciates the visual medium of cinema and actually bothers being cinematic. I’ll drink to that.


SUMMARY & RECOMMENDATION: Stiller is the star of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, but more so from behind the camera than in front of it. His penchant for emotional soundtracks and visual splendor suite this story well. That being said, Stiller is no slouch in front of the camera either, though. Guest-stars Sean Penn and Patton Oswalt bring yet more heart to this feelgood story.

However… Wiig is sweet, but underused. Scott ain’t sweet and needed better characterization.


? There’s a rhythm and rush these days, where the lights don’t move and the colors don’t fade… Leaves you empty with nothing but dreams, in a world gone shallow, in a world gone lean…

About The Celtic Predator

I love movies, music, video games, and big, scary creatures.


3 thoughts on “‘The Secret Life of Walter Mitty’ (2013): Modern FX Revitalize an Old Story

  1. Meh..I thought this was just one big long Ben Stiller commercial. “Oh look at me i’m skateboarding, oh look at me i’m trying to play a serious likeable guy (again)”…please…I felt like he was selling himself throughout the whole movie.

    Nah, i’m not going to discuss the hell out of it. I can’t stand him in a “serious” movie cause he always wants to play “Ben Stiller” instead of a real serious character. Friggin hate that shit.

    Just my thoughts

    Posted by Dries | July 23, 2015, 4:19 pm
    • Hahahaha, well to each their own, I guess. I’m a big fan of Stiller, particularly his directing work. I feel the same way about Ben Affleck; I feel they’re both best behind the camera, not in front of it, so in a sense I partially agree with you. I also didn’t think TSLWM was that serious, but oh well.

      Posted by The Celtic Predator | July 23, 2015, 7:25 pm
  2. Yeah like I said I just hate Ben Stiller in his so called “trying hard to be artistic” performance. The more he tries the more I feel i’m looking at a douchebag trying to sell emotion he found in his own toilet. That’s the best way I can translate my feeling about this lol.

    I like for example Zoolander more, because he fits the part better and he knows he’s just goofing around.

    Posted by Dries | July 25, 2015, 6:18 am

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