It’s been 9 years since Duncan Jones hit it out of the park with his debut film Moon. Since then his output has been… worrisome. But now he’s back with a force.
Duncan Jones manages to turn the grimy, ugly Berlin into something visually stunning and so believably futuristic that it serves as a terrific counterpoint to the dark story line. This is one where world-building is everything. Alexander Skarsgard, Paul Rudd, and Justin Theroux give a tour de force of performances.
The supporting cast is great too, the city of future Berlin very much included. At first you wonder if the film really needed to be near-future (cyberpunk) science fiction, and while the story could easily be told in a mundane present day setting, the themes of the story very much necessitate the futuristic elements. Much like its spiritual successor Moon, the film very much deals with isolation, compassion, and always acknowledges a baseline of humanity. I found it amazing how even the smallest of side characters gets a humanizing moment. It sells the depravity of the underworld even more, and creates a baseline of realism that often lacks in these types of films.
The concept of a (former) Amish person searching for a missing person in the modern world is also so simple, you wonder why nobody has done it before. It doesn’t even have to be an Amish person, but just watching Skarsgard try to navigate a world that has left him behind and he is totally alienated from is so fascinating to watch. It reminds me of how my tech illiterate grandparents, or even my parents a few years ago, must see our present. For all of our technology and its convenience, it can make the world look more remote and difficult for those who are not plugged in.
I can see the criticism the film has received: it’s a bit slow and plotting, the first twenty minutes or so could be could down, but I could really immerse myself in this ugly but beautiful world. Rotten Tomatoes really is not doing the movie justice with its algorithm. There are plenty of reviews out there, mixed but overall leaning positive, counted towards the negative scale. It’s a hard movie to watch because of its length and depth of world-building, but give it a quiet evening and you might be surprised. It’s already one of my favorite films of the year and I’m glad I was patient enough to sit through the first 20 minutes.