Unoriginal dystopian action movie with a sense of style
*CONTAINS SOME SPOILERS* But film is fairly predictable so even if you haven't seen it, this review probably won't ruin it for you.
This self-indulgent dystopia misses the mark by being so unoriginal it's painful, but avoids bottoming out completely through its spiffy fight scenes, impressive facial acrobatics on the part of Christian Bale and a stylish overall look.
After the world has been brought to the brink of destruction by a third world war (as we are told in the drawn-out, meant-to-be-chilling exposition) humankind has determined that all conflict results from man's ability to feel. In the dreary Orwellian Republic of Libria, human emotion and any stimulant thereof (art, music, poetry, etc.) have been outlawed. With the face of Big Brother.oops, sorry, Father blaring propaganda from gigantic movie screens and Zeppelins across town, citizens turn themselves into unfeeling automats by injecting themselves several times a day with a drug known as Proza.. ahem, Prozium. Should anyone trespass against this rigid law (not take their medicine, harbor subversive Warhols, or, God forbid, read Byron) they risk having a S.W.A.T: team of wire-fu supercops known as the Tetragrammaton Cleric descend upon them. So-called `sense offenders' are either massacred on the spot or imprisoned and then executed by furnace. Resistance is, of course, futile. No matter how many submachine guns your resistance band has, you don't stand a chance of ever hitting the slick-haired, black-coated wearing über-Ninja with the two pistols. He knows Gun-Kata, an extremely fast form of martial arts which involves some serious back-flipping, pistol-whipping and whirling, all based on the mathematical probability of who will shoot where when (as the movie explains in a Nintendo-esque training sequence). Besides, we all know that action heroes apparently can't be killed by bullets anyway.
Oh yes, and there's a plot. John Preston (Christian Bale), the highest ranking, gun-toting-est Cleric of them all, has no qualms about blowing his partner (Sean Bean) away when he finds him reading a copy of Yeats confiscated out in the `Nethers', just as he had no problem turning in his wife for incineration a few years back. But when he accidentally misses a dose of Prozium, all sorts of messy feelings start creeping in. Rather than double-dosing as fast as he can, he suddenly finds himself unable to give up this new sensation. Don't ask me why; the sociological part of this movie is as riddled with holes as the wall of a house under Cleric attack. So Preston goes trouncing about the Metropolis-inspired city, finding beauty in everything from the sunlight to the drones in their Huxley rip-off color-coded uniforms. He also falls in love with the first philosophy-spewing sense-offender he arrests (Emily Watson), who throughout weeks of imprisonment still manages to look like something straight out of a Mucha painting. His ultimate undoing comes in the form of an oh-so-adorable puppy dog which he cannot bring himself to shoot, though apparently slaughtering some 15-odd Clerics to save it is no big deal. Predictably, he ends up joining the resistance, outwitting his replacement partner Cleric Brandt (Taye Diggs), and *gasp!* confronting Father in a big last stand.
This patchwork sci-fi concoction spits out clichés faster than the Clerics' guns fire bullets. Take, for instance the pseudo-Christian conversion of the top Cleric (read Saul, top Roman persecutor of early Christians) into a feeling entity and figurehead of the resistance (Paul, road to Damascus, scales dropping from eyes.you get the picture). Add the now-obligatory long black Nehru-collared coats, a quart of hair pomade and cheekbones so sharp they look chiselled. A puppy in distress, the beautiful doomed maiden and some kids that strongly resemble Wednesday from the Addams Family can't hurt either. Throw in the inevitable ultimate showdown, which is so preposterously gory it's hysterical, and you end up with an insipid brew that looks really flashy, is entertaining if you are willing to forgive the plot holes and poor screen play, and has nothing new to offer.
Though the thought of trying to sell this flick as an original, chilling and thought-provoking dystopia on a par with Orwell or Huxley is as preposterous as the idea of Dan Quayle winning the national spelling bee, it still deserves some credit. The production design, if perhaps, umm, inspired elsewhere, is bang-on. The lackluster, sterile, stringent, monochromatic Libria sets a tone of quiet despair for the entire film. Christian Bale does a fabulous job of both anti-acting and subtle acting, keeping his face hard as granite and then letting small flashes of anger or helplessness seep through.
Though sometimes more a parody of itself than anything else, what we have here is essentially an action movie with some ideas and a sense of style.
This film, written and directed by newcomer Michael Petroni, takes its intriguing and poetic title from the closing lines of T. S. Eliot's `The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock' (Till human voices wake us, and we drown).
Dr. Sam Franks (Guy Pearce), a stoic and somewhat unreadable thirty-something professor of psychology, returns to his sleepy home town of Genoa in rural Australia to bury his father. On the train, he encounters a rather odd young woman named Ruby (Helena Bonham Carter), whom he later saves from a suicidal jump into a river. When she awakens with no recollection of who she is, Sam tries to help her recover her lost memory through suggestion and hypnosis, but the viewer soon realizes it is not so much her past he's bringing back as his own.
`There are two kinds of forgetting: active and passive,' Sam teaches his students at the very beginning of the film. It isn't hard to figure out that our protagonist is a champion in the former category: repression. As he and the ethereal Ruby explore his childhood haunts, audiences are taken from the glum present back to a seemingly endless summer in his early adolescence, and to his sweetheart Silvy, the first love and soulmate he lost. Interestingly, the original Australian version followed a linear narrative, but was re-cut to a present-past flashback pattern for British and American audiences. It is unclear whether this was meant to interweave the tragic events of Sam's childhood more closely with the man he has become, or simply to feature the big-name actors at an earlier point in the movie. We do work out fairly soon that it is not Sam's father he has truly come home to bury; it is his memories and his ghosts that need to be laid to rest. It is also no great feat to figure out Ruby's true identity.
Though this film features two accomplished and undeniably talented actors in the present-day layer of the film, what really holds it up is the brilliant performance delivered by their younger counterparts, relative unknowns Lindley Joyner and Brooke Harman. The friendship between the two characters, ranging from platonic intimacy to awkward, tremulous romance, is conveyed through as little as a shy sideward glance or a small shrug of the shoulder. The innocence with which these two carefully explore first love is somehow refreshing in its naïve wholesomeness.
For the average moviegoer, the seemingly total absence of a plot curve and character development will make sitting through this one somewhat tedious to downright torture. This long-winded, albeit visually stunning oeuvre overburdens itself with pseudo-psychoanalysis and symbolism. If you watch this waiting for something to finally happen, you will definitely end up disappointed. Viewers be warned: this is not plot-driven movie. The pseudo-dramatic revelation is too weak to satisfy the habituated movie-goer. Petroni leaves viewers expecting a proper denouement, but fails to deliver.
Though conveying poetry through film is a noble ambition, on the whole this film fails to do so by pretending to be more than it is, and maybe this is one heavy-handed tale that should not have been woken in the first place. However, this rambling narrative is still worth seeing, as long as it is not considered an in-depth study on loss and repression. If you can simply sit back and relax, and let the wonderful cinematography plunge you in to sun-washed, bitter-sweet memories, you will be able to enjoy this work for the flimsy, sweet-smelling haze of a film it is.