26 March 2011 | tpaladino
What a great movie!
I had no idea this film even existed until it showed up in my Netflix 'recommended' column, and I decided to give it a shot after reading some good reviews on there. Wow, am I happy I did.
This was a truly fantastic sci-fi thriller, with intense action and a truly engaging story. The characters were very well constructed and had a lot of substance to them, and of course the acting was superb. Who knew Ralph Finnes could play such a good lowlife?
Set in an alternate (but totally recognizable) Los Angeles of 1999, the world has seemingly gone completely to hell, due to rampant poverty and class/racial tensions which are pushing society towards an all-out state of anarchy. The authorities are barely maintaining order, despite resorting to draconian measures to try and keep things in check. The director does an excellent job of painting this picture for us through fantastic environment and background shots which effectively build the tension and make us fully believe what is happening.
In this world, they have invented a type of virtual reality which allows an individual to record everything they are seeing and feeling directly through their brain, so as to then be played back later through someone else's brain, which allows the user to then see and feel exactly what was recorded without any danger (other than possible addiction). So needless to say a huge black market has sprung up to provide people with recordings of all kinds of illicit, criminal and sexual activities that they'd never actually get to experience in the real world. The plot of the movie builds from this technology.
However, other than this particular device and general state of social affairs, the alternate 1999 is pretty much identical to our 1999 (very much to it's credit). No flying cars, no wacky fashion, no aliens, no laser guns or anything like that. It was a great decision by the filmmakers to not bite off more than they could chew in that regard, as it would have distracted from a very solid story.
The films weaknesses are few, but are there nonetheless. It was a bit long... although I'm not usually one to complain about that kind of thing, so long as the time is necessary to tell the story. In this case an argument can be made either way, though I personally feel they could have lost about fifteen minutes or so (but to me it's a minor issue).
The director also felt the need to very quickly explain the origin of the virtual reality technology through a throwaway line of dialog, which really added nothing to the plot, and honestly made no sense; they said the technology was originally developed for the FBI so that informants wouldn't have to wear a wire, which is just dumb. The device is WAY more cumbersome and easily discoverable than a wire transmitter. How about saying that the military invented it to train soldiers more realistically? Or just leave it alone... true virtual reality is a technological holy grail. I don't think anyone questions why something like that would be invented in the first place, even if it's purely for entertainment.
Additionally, in my opinion, a couple of the 'bad guys' could have had their motivations fleshed out a tad better, but that is a also very minor quibble.
Beyond that, the look of the movie is quite dated, which could hinder the enjoyment for some people. The 1990's did not age very well to our eyes, and this movie is VERY much a product of that era. If you lived through it, you know what I mean. Younger viewers may not fully get the social and cultural allusions that this movie is built upon (Rodney King riots, 90's hip hop culture, rave clubs... things like that)... just something to keep in mind, although if you did live though it, you'll appreciate the depth that these references add.
But really, I can't recommend this film highly enough. It's a completely under-appreciated piece of work, and one of the best sci-fi thrillers out there.