Actually, that’s part of the problem. Writer/director Lisa Joy obliterated Jackman’s charisma, transforming him into a mope with very little in the way of redeeming qualities.
Lineage counts for a lot; my expectations were low, knowing that Joy is one of the key show-runners who turned HBO’s update of Westworld into similarly tedious nonsense with delusions of grandeur. And — sure enough — she lives down to my worst fears with her feature film debut.
Reminiscence steals the futuristic Blade Runner look as the setting for an Inception-style dive into a reality constantly muddled by recaptured memories, the “twist” being that we’re often not sure which is which. That’s hardly a novel concept, nor is this clichéd premise helped by the fact that we don’t give a damn about any of these characters.
They’re worse than one-dimensional; they’re simply dull.”Note: Zone 414 Streaming”
Joy’s clumsy attempt to further spice this thin gruel with Raymond Chandler’s hard-edged noir sensibilities — as was done so much better in Blade Runner — is laughable.
Were it not for the stunning visuals crafted by production designer Howard Cummings and special effects maestro Peter Chesney, this would be a total bomb.”Read: Snake Eyes Streaming”
The setting is Miami, at some undetermined point in the future. The ocean has risen, due to a climate apocalypse, transforming the city into an American Venice. Water is everywhere; the lower floors of entire blocks of buildings are submerged. (Apparently this hasn’t affected anything structurally, which seems highly unlikely; Joy’s script isn’t long on real-world consequences.)”Read More: The Tomorrow War 2021 Streaming”
The chasm between the rich and everybody else has shifted onto fraught new territory: those who can afford to live on dry ground — giving an entirely new meaning to the phrase “land baron” — and everybody else. The result was some sort of war, its outcome left vague (along with everything else in Joy’s sloppy narrative).
Daytime temperatures are dangerously hot, prompting most people to live at night. Even allowing for this narrative element, Joy and cinematographer Paul Cameron go overboard with dark rooms, darker shadows and even darker streets; it’s sometimes difficult to determine what’s happening in a given scene. (If Cameron had dialed the illumination down a bit further, we’d have been spared having to watch the film at all.)”Also Read: Le Bal des folles 2021 Streaming”
War veteran Nick Bannister (Jackman) and his aide-de-camp Watts (Thandiwe Newton) run their own high-tech business of reminiscence, helping clients access lost memories, or re-live pleasant ones. Watts handles the gadgetry, which involves submersion in a water-filled, sensory-deprivation tank, and lots of fancy wires gently attached to one’s head.
Bannister acts as a narrative guide, walking the client through the memory, which is visualized on a life-size “stage”; he and Watts therefore are able to see the memory unfold. He’s partial to fellow veterans, particularly those who wish to remember themselves whole, prior to losing limbs in battle.”Note: Kate 2021 Streaming”
“Memory is the boat that sails against time’s current,” Jackman pompously intones, in narrative voice-over, “and I’m the oarsman.”
(Bannister begins each session by telling the client, with Serling-esque gravity, “You’re going on a journey…” and, each time, I fully expected him to finish the sentence by saying “…into the Twilight Zone.”)
The process may be cutting-edge, but Bannister and Watts are throwbacks. Their spacious office is 1920s Art Deco, with plenty of cozy furniture, wood paneling and softly muted table lamps. They store each client’s sessions/memories on tangible files, rather than digitally. Exploring the reason for such analog tendencies would lend some intriguing weight to their threadbare personalities, but Joy doesn’t bother; they simply wear this affectation like old clothes.”Read: Prey 2021 Streaming”
Enter the enigmatic Mae (Rebecca Ferguson), who may as well have the words “femme fatale” stamped onto her forehead. She has lost a set of keys, and hopes that Bannister & Associates can help her remember where they were misplaced. (Seems a trivial use of such technology, but hey: anything to get this story to lurch forward.)
Bannister is immediately smitten; Mae similarly succumbs. They begin a deliriously happy relationship, which worries Watts, who doesn’t trust this woman a jot. She clearly loves her boss, who seems oblivious: another detail Joy never addresses adequately.”Note: Chaos Walking 2021 Streaming”
Then — poof! — Bannister wakens in his own sensory tank. He has been obsessively — dangerously — re-living the memory of his relationship with Mae; she actually vanished several months ago, and he has been trying to find her ever since.
Coincidence — thanks to a sidebar assignment for a court prosecutor — allows Bannister to learn that Mae once worked as a waitress and singer for a drug kingpin named Saint Joe (Daniel Wu), who runs a nightclub in New Orleans. Matters somehow also involve one of Bannister’s regular clients, Elsa (Angela Sarafyan).”Also Read: Black Island 2021 Streaming”
Nick’s subsequent attempt to play private detective unfolds at the speed of snail, often accompanied by muttered assumptions, wool gathering and other banal excuses for dreary monologues and conversations.
Repeated artsy references are made to the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice. Ramin Djawadi’s dour score frequently quotes Rodgers and Hart’s melancholy “Where or When,” which becomes Nick and Mae’s theme song, after she sings it to him.
The major failing of Joy’s script — and of the entire film — is that we simply don’t care. About anything.
Jackman does nothing to persuade us that Nick deserves happiness; his attempts to find Mae feel more like an itch to be scratched, rather than the pursuit of true love. Ferguson’s deliberately, aggressively enigmatic performance as Mae is just annoying. Sarafyan’s Elsa has potential, but she doesn’t get enough screen time to make good on that possibility.
Wu’s Saint Joe — and his former henchman, Boothe (Cliff Curtis) — are soulless, one-dimensional thugs.
Watts is this story’s sole character of substance and emotional depth, and Newton brings far more to this party, than Joy deserves. Indeed, the film’s sole genuinely touching scene — at the very end — gets its dramatic heft from the subtle depth of Newton’s performance.
Alas, getting there is the worst sort of slog. As a writer, Joy is full of herself to a degree that far exceeds her talent. She might be a capable director of somebody else’s script, although I’m inclined to believe she’d screw it up with her pompous, overblown sensibilities.