Saorise (Atonement, Hanna) Ronan is truly a powerful acting force. Unfortunately, her movie choices as of late have been very lackluster. The benefits of "making it big" so young are numerous, but she seems to be struggling in her recent casting decisions. If a lead actor or actress is the best part of a good movie, it makes it all the better. But when he or she is the only good thing about a movie, that can make for a lengthy viewing and groan-worthy recommendation. That being said, How I Live Now is not a complete waste. Much like last year's Byzantium, Ronan's performance is enough to interest any viewer. And, much like last year's The Host, there is enough of a "what if?" factor within the premise to keep said viewer in his or her seat for the duration of the film.
Much like his entire body of work thus far, director Kevin (The Last King of Scotland, State of Play) Macdonald has surrounded himself with a capable cast, which is all the more noticeable this time around due to the nature of the story's content. It is, in all senses, a story about children. And by casting child actors (many of whom relative newcomers who are convincing in their difficult roles), his track record remains untarnished. But the film sort of falls a bit flat once the "war" begins around the halfway point. What starts off as an interesting take on world politics through the point-of-view of an outsider is abruptly halted just when the layers begin to unfold. Quite literally with a "boom," the movie changes into an entirely different one than advertised. Sometimes, this kind of jolt or shock can elevate a film. In this instance, it asks the audience to suspend their disbelief far too much to be even remotely believable. With a lesser lead actress, it would have completely destroyed the film.
But Ronan, as stated before, is a force. Her character is complex beyond her years and there is so much depth in said character that most actresses her age (or older, even more experienced for that matter) would have completely botched it. The director had to stick to material he was given, true, but the fact that the movie had five screenwriters and still didn't get a wide theatrical release proves that even the producers knew that they were, much like the film's protagonists, fighting a losing battle. The utter despair and overwhelming sense of hopelessness throughout the movie are overshadowed by quite a few unnecessary additional characters, boring cinematography, and a convoluted and somewhat cringe-worthy love story that is rivaled only by the lack of time and place in terms of flawed storytelling. Ronan's performance is of A-list quality. The directing is obviously grasping at straws to save an obviously overzealous and far too ambitious story. But, much like her last several outings, Saorise Ronan has shown that she is far more capable than her agent believes her to be.