Cast: Hugh Jackman, Rebecca Ferguson, Thandiwe Newton, Cliff Curtis, Marina de Tavira. Directed by Lisa Joy.
Perhaps unfairly, Lisa Joy’s debut as a writer-director of features has been compared to the work of Christopher Nolan. It’s not hard to see why; it’s a big budget original idea science fiction thriller produced by Warner Bros. Pictures that deals with memory, the dying of the Earth, it stars one-time Nolan collaborator Hugh Jackman, and the trailer was replete with big vistas. It also doesn’t help that Lisa Joy is married to Nolan brother Jonathan, the two of them having co-created the hit sci-fi show Westworld together.
In a future where Miami is almost completely underwater thanks to global warming, a memory revisiting system called Reminiscence is run by Nick Bannister and his colleague Watts, when a woman enters Nick’s life he is drawn into a conspiracy.
Lisa Joy is not wanting for ideas. Her science fiction series is filled with the sort of twists and turns most people could only dream of coming up with. Here, she is drawing on film noir, and showing her impressive knowledge of the genre.
Hugh Jackman is perfectly cast as Bannister, his former soldier and amateur sleuth is a perfect fit for the actor. He wears his five o’clock shadow well, and his downbeat determination is a testament to his channeling of Humphrey Bogart. As the story goes on the tired nature of his character is a perfect match, he mixes the darkness of the genre with the romanticism at its heart.
It helps that Rebecca Ferguson is a good fit for a femme fatale-type. She sings and wears dresses in a way that few can, she manages to humanise a role that could feel very much like a plot device. While Thandiwe Newton has the right amount of grizzled style that in most real film noir films would be an old white man. It shows that Joy enjoys the genre but wants to subvert it.
As with any film noir, things get twisty as it goes on. There are rich families – Brett Cullen always looks suspicious, while Roma’s Marina de Tavira gets wasted in her role. Your tolerance for the pacing of noir might be down to how genre literate you are. While there are action beats it’s not as action-heavy as many people might expect from a big-budget science fiction film.
But, in an age where people constantly complain about Marvel films being the only big films made, this is the sort of throwback that apparently don’t get made. The film feels more in keeping with something like Transcendence or Minority Report than anything Christopher Nolan has done, and as the film builds to the final reveals it might test people who are not genre literate.
Joy’s film, underpinned by a suitably moody score by Ramin Djawadi, is something of a wonder. It melds science fiction with film noir for a film that takes its time to explore its themes and to build its world. It’s not overly science fiction-y, Joy avoids renaming everything something stupid, and the design is much less stylised than one might expect.
The film falls down when it tries to go for emotional depth. Noir is not a genre known for emotion, and neo-noirs have failed to inject that into it. When it aspires to more moving territory is does come crashing down, the mystery is more important than the emotional weight of those involved. Much like Inception, it’s a film where the genre-melding with science fiction works better than any attempt to become deeper.
For those who go with it, it will be a film that rewards its audience with a film that feels as reminiscent as its namesake for all the pros and cons that provides.