I Am Legend: Bagna Calda

Year Released: 2007
Directed by: Francis Lawrence
Starring: Will Smith, Alice Braga, Dash Mihok
(PG-13, 100 min.)

"My heart is a lonely hunter that hunts on a lonely hill." William Sharp (Fiona Macleod)

Oh no, another end of the world flick! Fortunately, this one has three things going for it: Will Smith’s outstanding performance, a well-chosen wealth of detail, and some powerful insights on the nature of man.

This time it is neither mankind’s warlike mentality, nor its cavalier disregard for Mother Earth that has rained disaster down upon us, but the unintended consequences of a benevolent act. What is hailed as the consummate cure for cancer has somehow mutated into a virulent disease with a 99 percent infection rate. Only the infection doesn’t kill; it just turns you into a potential cast member for a Night of the Living Dead remake.

Scientist Robert Neville (Will Smith) is the sole normal survivor in New York, and he fills his days scavenging for food, dodging the bloodsucking hordes that thankfully share Bella Lugosi’s aversion to the sunlight, and working for a cure in his subterranean laboratory. His single companion is Sam, a stalwart German Shepherd upon whom he lavishes his complete affection, reminding her to “eat your vegetables,” letting her ride shotgun in the car, and giving her a sudsy Saturday night bath with fatherly tenderness. In other words, Sam has the same privileged life so many of us accord man’s best friend even when it's not the only benign creature left in this world.

Much of the film’s pleasure comes from Will Smith, an actor perfecting his craft with each cinematic installment. I am reminded of Carl Jung’s archetype of the hero in four stages: joker/trickster, romantic man of action, man of words, and finally, the wise spiritual guide. From his early beginnings as television’s The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air Will Smith was a joker, a none too serious funnyman. Men in Black had him saving the world, but with comic/farcical undertones, while in Independence Day he was more a straight man of action. 

In his last two features, The Pursuit of Happyness and I Am Legend, we see the man of action also taking on some of the verbal eloquence of the man of words. Will uses all his powers of persuasion to land an internship on Wall street in the former, and in the latter his daily broadcasts from a silent Manhattan reach out to a humanity he hopes is listening somewhere somehow out there. And most recently, Smith has developed a range that allows darker emotions to play across his features with a subtle touch that never overreaches. His rage is under the surface; his despair only escapes stoic control momentarily to flash tellingly on the screen.

Also fleshing out this not necessarily original piece – it has already been made at least once before as Charlton Heston’s 1971 Omega Man -- are the well-chosen details of Robert Neville’s survival. His systematic patrol of deserted apartments supplies his pantry, generators his power, the still fertile soil a small vegetable plot, and herds of wild deer the occasion for fresh meat. He even has a pretty nifty system for securing experimental human life forms, if you can call the rabid little beasties such, as well as the all important watch alarm that gives him notice that it is time to pack it in for the day and remove himself to his barricaded fortress of a townhouse.

But what haunts even more than the infected hordes is his very human loneliness. He copes by talking to Sam the German Shepherd just a bit more than I do to my Weimaraner, and he creates a simulation of normalcy by playing videotapes of Matt and Katie’s Today Show’s morning banter. He has set up mannequins to mind the video store he visits daily, working his way through the stock in alphabetical order, and even finding some shy flirtation with an especially attractive and demure specimen he has stationed as a customer. Not quite as achingly pathetic as Tom Hanks’ ongoing friendship with a soccer ball in Castaway, but telling nonetheless.

This is essentially a one-man show and Will Smith is able to lift a plain Jane script to an engrossing set piece for his not inconsiderable talents. Just remember to be out of the theater and back in your car before nightfall.

—Kathy Borich

Film-Loving Foodie

Between the roving deer leaping over rusting cars and the square of earth he has made into a garden, Robert Neville seems to be eating all right. His crop of city corn looks Iowa ideal, so I might recommend he cook up some Roasted Corn with Cilantro Butter, although Robert might have to substitute olive oil for that hard to get butter.

And if he ever is lucky enough to land a deer, there is always Texas Venison Chili, although he’d have to rename it Lonely Manhattan Chili.

But let’s stick to Plan B, which is what I think is his more likely routine, and raid the well-stocked pantry to make this Italian “hot bath” dipping sauce. Again, olive oil would have to stand in for the butter, but the other ingredients are cupboard staples, especially when all of New York is your pantry. And a few bulbs of garlic would likely flourish in the garden right along side the corn.

A little of this sauce on her plate, and Sam is guaranteed to “finish her vegetables.”

Bagna Calda 

  • 1/2 c. butter
  • 1/2 c. olive oil
  • 10 anchovy fillets
  • 1 can boneless sardines
  • 6 garlic cloves, mashed
  • 1/2 tsp. fresh ground pepper

Heat the olive oil in a small sauté pan: add the butter, anchovies, garlic and sardines. Simmer together 10 minutes, mashing ingredients into oil - butter with a fork.

Serve with cut vegetables as a dip, such as artichokes, tomatoes with basil, or spread on Italian bread and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese just before grilling.

Recipe Source: Cooks.com