Year: 2021
Production Co: FilmNation Entertainment
Director: Lisa Joy
Writer: Lisa Joy
Cast: Hugh Jackman, Rebecca Ferguson, Thadiwe Newton, Cliff Curtis, Natalie Martinez

It's late at night as I write this review and I wish I could think of other examples, but there have been quite a few instances of powerhouse TV people finally getting a crack at a big movie, only for the results to be critically and financially disappointing.

Lisa Joy and husband Jonathan Nolan (brother of star director Chris) blazed brightly on TV thanks to their adaptation of Westworld, so the idea of Joy doing a movie was pretty exciting. Unfortunately, critics mostly disliked her sci-fi noir. Unfairly? Kind of...

On the upside, the world building is great, and the opening scene promises a lot as the camera slowly pans back from Miami, drowned after climate change-driven sea level rise, the people living in enclaves around skyscrapers joined by floating boardwalks and streets with inch-high lakes, the water barely held back by giant levees.

It's a great place to situate a story, the design of the flooded city is imaginative and the visual effects that render it are top notch.

The problems it seems most people had are in the story itself. It's a classic gumshoe tale about Nick (Hugh Jackman), a cynical PI who uses specialised technology to plumb the memories inside brains along with his no-nonsense partner Watts (Thandiwe Newton).

When stunning lounge singer Mae (Rebecca Ferguson) comes looking to find lost car keys, Nick can't get her out of his mind. He follows her to work and is smitten, his world bought to life after the pair fall in love.

Then, Mae suddenly disappears out of his life one day, and Nick becomes obsessed with finding out what happened to her. Part of his effort is getting high on his own supply, so to speak – putting himself in the memory machine to try and find some clue from his own past with her about where Mae went.

But just like in Inception, the danger is that you can start to believe the memories you're delving into are real life, getting lost in them, forgetting to come back out and rendering your brain mush.

Meanwhile, a prosecutor Nick works with hires him to go into the mind of a drug addict sidekick of a suspected drug kingpin in order to implicate the latter's crimes, and Nick's shocked to find Mae present in the man's memories, apparently with a darker past that he could have imagined.

It leads him down a rabbit hole of organised crime, revealing Mae's true intentions with him, her addiction to a dangerous narcotic and her history with the kingpin, all of it playing out while Nick dives into memories from past clients to learn the truth.

It's hard to put one's finger on exactly what didn't work. Maybe the love story was just a bit sappy, maybe the tone was off somehow. It adheres to many of the tropes and motifs of the jaded PI who once knew love pretty well and maybe that's the problem, the whole movie reminding you of the same thing done better – even in the sci-fi genre.

Or it might be that after establishing such a well-made location, the story happening in it is just a bit middling.

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