Warner Brothers USA 2021
Directed by Lisa Joy
You know, I suspect this movie is probably going to invite comparisons to Blade Runner from some critics and, thinking about it, I wouldn’t blame them if they do. Written and directed by Lisa Joy, Reminiscence is a beautiful, beautiful film which has exactly the kind of soft science fiction concept at its heart that was the speciality of the literary giant Philip K. Dick. And, added to this, the writer has built a nearish future world, shot in a convincing and breathtaking way, feeding directly into the viewers imaginations and then done the cool 1980s thing, by using the concept and the world to tell a classic 1940s style film noir thriller. Complete with a voice-over running narrative provided by the main protagonist, no less.
The film is set mostly in Miami (with a dash of New Orleans thrown into the mix) in a future where the water levels of the Earth have risen significantly... which brought a war along with it as humanity tried to cope with the new way of living. The post-war result, beautifully rendered in the film, are cities which live on top of water. The levels of the water sloshing around on the walkable streets are also used to suggest the distinction with the class divisions in this future... with the super rich actually living in ‘dry lands’... city complexes protected by huge damns to keep the water out. It all looks fantastic and quite gorgeously inspiring, like the worlds built in movies like the aforementioned Blade Runner (reviewed here) or Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (reviewed here).
The film stars the brilliant Hugh Jackman as Nick Bannister who, along with his business partner, ex-army buddy Watts, played by equally brilliant Thandiwe Newton, is a memory broker of some kind. That is to say, he uses a special tank and a mixture of chemicals to allow people to revisit past moments in their lives, for a price. The special pods they use were originally designed for interrogation in the war and so the two are also employed sometimes by the city’s DA, to churn up memories to help acquit or convict various suspects in legal cases.
Then one day, in the best film noir tradition, a femme fatale called Mae, played by the always amazing Rebecca Ferguson, walks into Nick’s life on the pretext of needing a quick memory fix to locate some misplaced keys she can’t remember losing that morning and then, well, I don’t want to give the terribly convoluted and, thankfully, fairly impenetrable and surprising plot twists away but it’s a wonderful noir concoction which manages to juggle a bleak outlook with stunning cityscapes in a convincing and addicting manner.
Not content to let the central concept kick start and guide the impetus of the story, the writer/director has the confidence to use the memory trips of various characters to shape the context of the viewpoint of the story and to use as reveals in certain places in the narrative structure. There is absolutely no lazy writing in this one and it really is one of the best modern noirs I can think of. It’s first rate science fiction which stretches back to movie genre ancestors such as Soylent Green through to recent genre successes like Hotel Artemis (reviewed here). It certainly holds up to its predecessors and possibly is more successful than some of those classics, even.
The special effects are flawless and so are the actors here. Rounding out the cast is a ‘bent cop turned freelance villain’, so to speak, played by Cliff Curtis... who appeared, like Rebecca Ferguson, in the big screen adaptation of Doctor Sleep. He’s playing a much more ruthless and unforgiving character than I’m used to seeing him playing here though. The actors manage to keep their character’s secrets until the reveals and, this perhaps says as much about their performances here as it does about the writing.
Another nice element of the world depicted here, which certainly highlights and maintains the ‘film noir’ atmosphere in which the story line marinates, is the fact that in the future depicted here, the days have become much too hot to do much of anything. So mankind’s solution is to flip their lifestyles to suit the new globally warmed planet. People sleep during the day and work by night, for the majority of the time. It’s a neat trick to have all the action take place in an intriguing world of wispy, smoky colours and shadows and it certainly works a treat. Ramin Djawadi’s score which is, alas, unavailable on CD at time of writing, is just another element which merges perfectly with the shadow world depicted here.
Reminiscence is definitely one of those films where all of the elements seem to come together in the best way possible to serve the story (including the quite beautiful sentiment behind it) and wrap everything up in a wonderful package. If you are a fan of science fiction, especially the kind of ideas you’d find in the softer areas explored by writers in the 1950s to 1970s, then you should really go and check this one out. I hope this one comes out on Blu Ray before Christmas as I would love to show it to the people I love.