|In Short:||It’s all very familiar, which doesn’t make it one whit less awesome.|
|HAMILTON:||Everyone can’t live forever, where would be out them?|
I went into this one with the lowest of low expectations, and boy was I wrong. For one thing, before I saw his name in the opening credits, I had no idea this was an Andrew Niccol film, and since he is the stylish, stylized genius who gave us Gattaca, suddenly things were looking up. Then, wow, this cast! Sure, I knew about Justin Timberlake and Amanda Seyfried, but check out the rest of them: Olivia Wilde, Cillian Murphy, The Big Bang Theory’s Johnny Galecki, White Collar’s Matt Bomer and genre It Kid, Alex Pettyfer. I mean, come on! How can a movie be directed by Andrew Niccol and contain so much of the pretty and also be science fiction and not be completely, exactly, entirely the kind of movie that I would love, love, love?
Want to know why my expectations were low? I’d seen a snippet of the trailer -- which just looked to me like a bunch of Transformers-style running around the place -- and had read the basic film synopsis sent to me by Fox Studios’ publicity department. So what I knew was this:
“Welcome to a world where time has become the ultimate currency. You stop aging at 25, but there’s a catch: you’re genetically-engineered to live only one more year, unless you can buy your way out of it. The rich “earn” decades at a time (remaining at age 25), becoming essentially immortal, while the rest beg, borrow or steal enough hours to make it through the day. When a man from the wrong side of the tracks is falsely accused of murder, he is forced to go on the run with a beautiful hostage. Living minute to minute, the duo’s love becomes a powerful tool in their war against the system.”
Why was I hesitant about this premise? Because, come on! How many sci-fi tropes do you want to hit? Predetermined age-limit to combat overpopulation: Logan’s Run, among many others. Being able to effectively purchase immortality: Elizabeth Moon’s Familias Regnant series, among many others. Falsely accused and on the run in a future, dystopian society: hello Minority Report, The Island and who knows what all else!
But you know what? Much like he did in Gattaca, where he took the already well-worn path of the genetically-superior being not necessarily being superior and made it his own, writer/director Niccol brings a freshness, almost a whole new sensibility to these and the other trappings of classic sci-fi he offers up to us here. We also get action, suspense, romance, humor, social commentary, gorgeous visuals and, as I mentioned, bucket loads of the pretty -- I would pay good money to see Matt Bomer and Olivia Wilde in anything; impossibly beautiful doesn’t even begin to cover that blessed pair -- and wow, what a thoroughly, unexpectedly fun, truly thought-provoking and utterly engaging time this movie was. I am still flabbergasted at just how much I dug this. I actually broke into spontaneous applause as the credits rolled. And I can’t wait to see it again.
But the big question: how was JT? He was, I will have you know, excellent. I have long felt that there was something effortlessly engaging about his whole persona, whether in interviews or on SNL or in roles as diverse as beleaguered rookie cop in Edison, Napster hipster Sean Parker in The Social Network or squirrelly substitute Scott in Bad Teacher. He doesn’t really seem to act: he just is. Here, he is an unlikely action hero, but somehow, he pulls it off in grand style, looking simultaneously earnest, dangerous and adorable, and easily holding his own even alongside someone the likes of Murphy, whose hypnotic eyes can convey more in one blink of an eyelash than many a lesser actor can get across in an entire soliloquy.
All of the other performances are top notch, particularly from Wilde and Galecki -- who brings most of the funny in the film -- and hey, you know who else is in here! Vincent Kartheiser, AKA Connor from Angel! And he’s not bad at all, either. In fact, he and Pettyfer are our main bad guys, and both pull of criminal cool pretty damn well.
The long and the short of it? See this film. It’s entertaining, it has a message, it is a feast for the eyes, and we definitely need to be encouraging more of this kind of genre filmmaking. True, it’s not a truly original piece of work. In fact, in addition to all of the other things it reminds me of, it also brings to mind Equilibrium -- not so much in its content but in the way that it is essentially a mashup of a whole bunch of established ideas out of speculative fiction, but gives them new life (Equilibrium went with Brave New World, Fahrenheit 451, 1984 -- and also Logan’s Run as its inspirations). But that’s okay; I really like Equilibrium, too. Plus, as finely planed as Christian Bale’s cheekbones may be, as beauteous as Taye Diggs assuredly is and as soulfully tragic as Sean Bean’s doomed poet definitely was, when you stack even the three of them up against Timberlake, Seyfried, Wilde, Bomer, Pettyfer, Kartheiser and hey, even Galecki, they must of necessity come up wanting.
In doing a little research for this review, I have just come across the information that the ever-litigious SF luminary Harlan Ellison is suing Niccol and various studio-types for plagiarism, given this movie’s similarity to his 1965 short story "‘Repent, Harlequin!’ Said the Ticktockman.” Having not read the piece in question, I can’t comment, but considering Ellison’s unrelenting pursuit of copyright infringers, one would think that if Niccol was to knowingly steal from anyone, he’d have picked a safer target. After all, most of the ideas in this movie can be found all over Sci-Fi, not to mention in Action, and Drama and Crime, as well.
But sometimes it’s not about the provenance of the ideas, it’s what you do with them. And here, Niccol has done wonders. (As long as you suspend your disbelief and go with the fact that Timberlake, Seyfried and the rest are, biologically, only 25. Luckily, Hollywood’s been conditioning us to do just that for years.)
-- Rachel Hyland