25 June 2001 | jhclues
Foster Makes "Contact"
All of the greatest work by the greatest scientists has been done while they were very young, when they were stupid enough to believe that two-plus-two-equals-five, and pursued it instead of listening to all of those who were much older and wiser who said Don't Waste Your Time. Einstein, it has been said, asked all of his important questions before the age of twenty-five, then spent the rest of his life working on them. `Contact,' directed by Robert Zemeckis, is the story of a young scientist, Ellie Arroway (Jodie Foster), who like Einstein and all the greats before her, has been asking questions and seeking answers since she was very young. And now, as a member of the SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) team, she is able to pursue her obsession with the mysteries of the galaxies and the infinite universe that surrounds us. Her job is to sweep the skies, using the most sophisticated equipment available, for a signal from deepest space. It may be her job, but for Ellie it's a labor of love, for she is convinced that there is something, or someone, out there somewhere, because otherwise, she reasons, what a terrible waste of space it would be. Ellie may be a dreamer, but she knows in her heart that it is the dreamers who over the years have been responsible for making us evolve, making us learn and grow because they are the ones who take insane, foolish ideas and pursue them. And to her, two-plus-two will always be five.
Ellie loves her job and believes in what she is doing, but it's been a struggle over the years, as she and others have had to constantly fight for the funding necessary to keep the project alive, begging for dollars from short-sighted, unimaginative people with vision that goes only as far as the bottom line of their budget book. It's been a tough row to hoe, and she's had to swallow a lot of pride over the years, but then one day it all pays off, when in one magic moment she hears what she's been waiting for all her life: A signal from a distant end of the galaxy-- someone attempting to communicate, to make contact, with the people of the Earth.
Ellie and her team soon realize that, whomever it is, they are using the universal language of prime numbers in their attempts at making contact; and when Ellie deciphers the code, she discovers something monumental in the bargain. But it's a message of global importance, something much bigger than she and her team alone, and she soon find herself fighting to remain a part of the drama that is only beginning to unfold-- the first interaction between human beings and an alien life form. And it's only the beginning of the adventure and the wondrous places this film is about to take you.
Jodie Foster gives a performance here that demonstrates what a gifted, talented actor she is. Her Ellie is convincing and believable, and someone to whom you can genuinely relate, no matter who you are or where you're from, because there is something universal in Ellie's passion and longing to discover the truth and to see beyond the veil of our limited mortal capacities. There's a strength to Ellie, born of a combination of intelligence and innocence, as well as tenacity and faith, and Foster manifests all of these complexities of her character beautifully, with a performance that should've landed her an Oscar nomination. In this role, she is simply as good as it gets.
As the young Ellie, Jenna Malone gives a terrific performance, also, which certainly captures the same spirit that we find in the adult Ellie. And there's a maturity she brings to the character that far exceeds her years. She was a perfect choice for the part, and if this is any indication of what she is capable of, Malone has a successful career ahead of her.
The supporting cast includes David Morse (Ted Arroway), Matthew McConaughey (Palmer), Geoffrey Blake (Fisher), William Fichtner (Kent), Tom Skerritt (David), James Woods (Kitz) and Angela Bassett (Rachel). Zemeckis did a brilliant job of bringing this film to fruition, especially in the way he allowed Foster the time to really develop her character, by giving her that extra moment at just the right time that ultimately meant so much in the final analysis. Too often it's those few minutes that wind up on the cutting room floor that make the difference between a good film and an exceptional one; and between Zemeckis and Foster, they took it to the edge by taking some chances to realize that combined vision, which in the end made this a great film. Thoroughly engrossing and entertaining, `Contact' will transport you to places you can only imagine, and it's all done with style and in a way that makes this a truly memorable cinematic journey. It's what the magic of the movies is all about. I rate this one 10/10.