April 11, 2011

Deliciously Beckettish

When it comes to sci-fi these days, for the most part, it's all about the explosions! The effects! The metal on metal! Restrained, other worldly sci-fi is hard to come by in our age. Only Duncan Jones seems to be interested in providing us that, and Source Code had one foot firmly in the realm of EXPLOSIONS. Thank God, then, that we have those movies to look back on. You know, those movies! The ones that are more interested in crafting new and weird worlds, with characters coping with situations far beyond their stations. Though the undisputed masterpiece of this type of film is Blade Runner, one film that flew under my radar until an article by one, Kai Parker, called my attention it was Dark City. And good on me for checking it out, because it friggin' rocks! Dark City is a devilishly clever, creepy, inventive science fiction epic that revels in the absurd and the noir. The guys behind this one certainly love them some Sam Beckett, which is recipe for something wonderful.

This won't hurt a bit. 

A man wakes up in a tub in a room that he doesn't recognize. He doesn't know where he is or who he is. There's a carved up corpse of call girl on the floor in the room. Needless to say, the man is freaking out. Upon discovering his identify (his name is John Murdoch), he is thrust into a strange and terrifying world, run by a group of bald men called "Strangers" with the ability to change the landscape and manipulate the population to such great extents that they can even prevent the sun from ever rising. As he starts to get the bottom of what is going on, and as he begins to experience the same control over the world that his aggressors have, Murdoch discovers the true nature of his existence, and how powerful the "Strangers" really are.

As an initial concept, Dark City has plenty in common with other works, but few come close to matching it in terms of execution. The world that Murdoch is thrust into is so twisting and convoluted, while at the same time being fully realized and fleshed out. The world that the filmmakers created is, quite simply, cool, and when sci-fi is cool, something is being done right.

Rufus Sewell takes the drivers seat, playing Murdoch with a steely resolve mixed with the perfect amount of vulnerability. I had never really seen him in anything until now, but I can understand where all the good press is coming from. He owns the film as Murdoch, commanding every scene he's in with his fiery presence.

Kiefer Sutherland plays a doctor who knows more than he is letting on. Sutherland is far from Jack Bauer territory, delving into his crazy side for the role. He is positively batshit here, speaking in a sharp, staccato manner, limping everywhere, and taking in all the absurdities occurring around him with a casual "eh". I want more of this Kiefer. He's shooting people too much these days.

Jennifer Connelly and William Hurt round out the main cast as Murdoch's confused wife, Emma, and Bumstead, a tired and disillusioned inspector who suspects Murdoch of murder, respectively. They aren't given as much to do as Sewell or Sutherland, but they do it just as well.

The most memorable additions to the cast, however, are the "Strangers". Sporting names like Mr. Hand, Mr. Shade, Mr. Foot, etc, these guys are tricky, cruel, and downright terrifying. Richard O'Brian, aka Riff Raff from Rocky Horror, has the most screen time as the enigmatic Mr. Hand, who spearheads the operation to find Murdoch. It's a subtle, chilling performance that will stick with you long after you've finished.

And how does that make you feel?

Director/Writer Alex Proyas really fell off the wagon after this one. He follows up a movie this good and inventive with what, exactly? Oh yeah, that's right, I Robot and Knowing. Damn, talk about a steep decline. Luckily, he'll always have this movie to fall back on. He crafts a perfectly realized and completely believable world. His blending of the supernatural with the noirish is splendid; there has never been a film that looks quite like this one, and there never will be. Proyas effectively mixes elements of such classics as A Clockwork Orange, Blade Runner, and others into his crafting of the world. Since the sun never rises, the whole movie is saturated in darkness, and this only adds to the creepiness of the whole thing. The shadow work in the flick is out of this world.

The film does go slightly off the rails in the latter end of the third act, resorting to the classic, action packed finale tropes that so many films fall victim to. It seems as though Proyas ran out of ideas after all the huge revelations that came one after the other, and needed to wrap it all up. I mean, it works, and the final action scene is beyond cool, but still. I would have liked to seem something a bit more tasteful, especially given everything that came before.

Regardless, Dark City is still five kinds of awesome! Beautiful to look at, exceedingly clever and thought provoking, with some solid performances to boot, everything about the movie just works. Since it's been more than a decade since we were first graced with it's presence, it's readily available. You have no excuse. This is one worth investing in.


  1. Excellent review,
    I've heard about this one many times before, but for some reason never watched it, after ready this review I think I might have to change that.

  2. I just watched this again a week or so ago. It's a very slow-paced movie, but definitely original and a sci-fi lover's must-own.