After all these years of doing battle with the likes of Satan, sport-hunting aliens, assorted criminal scumbags, and a headache that was definitely not a tumor, I can say with a reasonable degree of certainty that, when word first came that you would be starring in a zombie flick, we all had the same generic shoot ‘em up playing in our heads.
Truth be told, the whole zombie thing is a sub-genre I've burnt out on, and even with your name on the marquee I had a fair amount of reservations before sitting down to watch Maggie. So you can imagine my delight when it proved to be a far more than your typical zombie film—and, on top of that, offered a performance from you that is unlike anything we've ever seen from you. After four decades, that’s pretty amazing.
Part of what makes Maggie work so well is its neat sidestepping of the expected thematic beats.
No petty infighting amongst the survivors. No climactic siege. No "perhaps man is the real monster after all" moralizing when the dust settles. Indeed, outside of an early attack scene, there are only a handful of moments where the undead are onscreen. Yet they never feel inconsequential to the story. The moody shots of a decimated landscape tell us every thing we need to know about how much the world has been impacted, and the script makes the wise decision to never provide an explanation as to how we wound up in this predicament in the first place.
Now, the character type of “everyman” doesn't immediately come to mind when one glances at your filmography. But as a humble Midwestern farmer spending what little time he has left with his infected daughter, there was never a moment where I questioned your commitment to the role. It's a very sad and introspective performance, and reveals just as much through body language as dialogue. And there’s some heavy stuff to deal with; your character, Wade, must come to terms not only with the fact that his daughter is dying, but that he may have to be the one to end her suffering before she can become a danger to others.
Your co-star Abigail Breslin really knocks it out of the park, as well. As Maggie, she brings a real sense of tragedy and pathos to the role. Even as the infection worsens, her humanity always shines through, and, just like Wade, we never see her as the monster others fear her to be. The chemistry you two share is wonderfully genuine, and even though there’s a certain degree of inevitability to how a story like this can end, it doesn't make the actual moment any less gut-wrenching when it finally comes.
This is a move I wish more action stars of your calibre (and age) would take: act in smaller parts that offer greater opportunity to flex dramatic muscles (you know, instead of attempting to relive the high-octane days of yore). It’s the reason I've never thought twice about The Expendables and its sequels; seeing someone step outside their comfort zone is far more exciting than watching them rehash what made them famous in the first place.
Which is why I’m hoping that I can look forward to seeing you in similar roles in the future. Just think of the dramatic muscles as yet another part of your physical form that needs to be pumped up.