It’s tough to imagine a moviemaker thinking that what Robert C. O’Brien’s last-two-people-on-earth post apocalyptic young adult cult novel Z For Zachariah needed was — you guessed it — a third person. But that’s exactly what filmmaker Craig Zobel (The Great World of Sound) and screenwriter Nissar Modi (Breaking at the Edge) have done, for better or worse. The movie follows resourceful Ann (Margot Robbie), the daughter of a farmer-preacher, who believes herself to be the only survivor of some unspecified worldwide cataclysm that has left most of the Earth’s surface poisonously radioactive. Ann, and her dog Pharoah, are protected against calamity by living in a geographically isolated valley, into which wanders research scientist Loomis (Chiwetel Ejiofor), who joyfully shucks his radiation suit when he learns that the air is breathable.
As the two band together for survival, they clash over the right ways to reboot a new civilization, but an intriguing romance and sense of trust develops between them. The scenes by screenwriter Modi and beautifully played by Ejiofor and Robbie (astonishingly gorgeous and, clearly, a modern day movie star), are so good, you almost wish that they would deepen, twist, and complicate right to the end of the film. Instead, the movie diffuses its hothouse intensity with the introduction of a handsome local coal miner Caleb (Chris Pine), who also finds the hidden valley and who appears to have been brought into the movie mostly to a) cock block and b) become an alternative for Ann to consider over John. It’s a non-starter love triangle, all about petty jealousy and furtive looks, too damn Gone with the Wind meets Twilight for the great stuff that’s come before.
Still, Z for Zachariah is worth seeing for the opportunity to watch Robbie (The Wolf of Wall Street, Focus) become a full-fledged film star, for the strong performances of Ejiofor and Pine, and for the fascinating stuff the movie has to say about race, religion, and the mixed blessings of scientific progress.