‘District 9' writer/director injects a dystopian premise with gritty creativity
Starring: Matt Damon, Jodie Foster, Diego Luna, Alice Braga, Emma Tremblay, Wagner Moura, William Fichtner
Directed by: Neill Blomkamp
Stars: 3 out of 4
Just once, it would be nice for a movie
to offer a pleasant vision of the future. Regardless of the genre, every cinematic depiction of the future we see is negative. In "Oblivion," Earth has been taken over by aliens. In "The Road," it's the apocalypse. In "I, Robot," "Minority Report" and just about every other Philip K. Dick adaptation, technology works against man. Even "Wall*E" was a warning sign to us humans to get off our big behinds and not depend on technology for everything.
Are we really this scared of what we might become?
Even though writer/director Neill Blomkamp also conforms to the dystopian future premise, he does so with such style and grit in "Elysium," it's vividly entertaining from start to finish. The film has a "Hunger Games"-style story in which the über-wealthy live well while the poor barely survive. Within this structure, however, Blomkamp exercises great creativity and asserts without a doubt that the promise he showed in "District 9" (2009) was no fluke.
The year is 2154, and Earth, where poor people live, is a mess. The air is polluted, garbage is everywhere and robots serve as police officers, security guards and the like. Max (Matt Damon), to his credit, makes the most of it. He's no longer stealing cars and resisting arrest, choosing instead to lead an honest life as a factory worker. His friend Julio (Diego Luna) is the only person who's loyal to him, and Max's attempts to reconnect with childhood friend Frey (Alice Braga) are endearing without being sentimental. Frey, who's a nurse, unfortunately has a leukemia-stricken daughter (Emma Tremblay) and doesn't have much time for him.
Meanwhile, the aristocrats live on Elysium, a circular spaceship oasis just outside Earth's atmosphere. It's a perfect and idyllic structure, made to look like the paradises of Earth's yesteryear, complete with flowing water, green grass, beautiful trees and precise landscaping. Most important, Elysium utilizes healing tubes in which sick people are diagnosed and cured in a matter of minutes.
These healing tubes become a salient point for Max after he's exposed to radiation and given five days to live. Earthlings are not allowed on Elysium and are shot down by Secretary of Defense Delacourt (Jodie Foster) when they try to sneak in. Undeterred, Max enlists the help of human trafficker Spider (Wagner Moura) to get him onto the spacecraft, but Spider will only help after Max extracts data from a sleazy corporate tycoon (William Fichtner). Also working against Max is Kruger (Sharlto Copley), Delacourt's man on Earth who takes care of her extra-dirty work.
Composer Ryan Amon's pounding score adds intensity to action sequences, and Copley (the star of "District 9") is a fearsome, imposing villain. What's more, all the action happens for a reason, and the visual effects do a solid job of enhancing sequences rather than becoming the focal point, which is a good thing. One knock on the action: Some scenes utilize a jerking camera and fast edits, essentially sacrificing clarity in an effort to immerse us in what's happening. This doesn't work; we cannot be immersed in something we do not understand.
Though "Elysium" has a "be good to your fellow man" theme, Blomkamp isn't pumping moral platitudes with the hope of creating a better world. Instead, he's more interested in the slick, beautiful production design and visual effects, the intensity of the compelling story, and how all the elements come together. The fact that he succeeds is a good omen, because it means more Blomkamp movies for years to come … let's hope it's in a future unlike what we see in movies.