Synopsis – Nick Bannister, a private investigator of the mind, navigates the alluring world of the past when his life is changed by new client Mae. A simple case becomes an obsession after she disappears and he fights to learn the truth about her.
My Take – It is a curious thing to note that despite often regarded as being a major influence on many filmmakers, neo-noir thrillers rarely grace the screens anymore, which have majorly come to become dominated by franchises and sequels in recent years.
Hence, right from the very first scene, with some good measure sci-fi setting thrown in, the film serves up as a wonderfully pleasing to look old school star-powered original film, which incidentally also talks about one’s attachment to nostalgia.
Making her feature directorial debut here, Lisa Joy, the co-creator of HBO’s Westworld, has put together an ambitious mind-bending thriller that combines the Neo-noir, dystopian aesthetic of both Blade Runner films with the existential dream exploration of 2017’s Inception (Christopher Nolan happens to be her brother-in-law), with a little bit of the classic Chinatown (1974) thrown in.
While as a director Joy has already proven her considerable talent in fashioning vivid, intelligent sci-fi worlds out of contemporary anxieties, here, unfortunately, her amalgamated screenplay of virtually every elevated science-fiction film of the past four decades never quite gets a handle of the various lacking plots that are supposed to make her film riveting ride it promises to be.
Nevertheless, despite its shortcomings, the film does earn brownies for being executed with proficiency. Aided by its likable cast, especially the leads who get to stroll through an empty city exactly like the flashback sequences in Inception, and an excellent set and prop design, in the end it’s not hard to buy into its dystopian world and pulp story line, irrespective of the pay off.
Set in a future Miami, following the melting of the polar icecaps, which saw the oceans levels rise, and a series of wars to secure depleting resources and precious dry land, giant walls now hold the sea mostly at bay in some neighborhoods, while other areas have canals in place of streets, and boat traffic have replaced cars. The daytime temperatures have also become so prohibitive that city comes only alive at night.
The story follows Nick Bannister (Hugh Jackman), a former veteran, who while occasionally assisting the DA’s office, also runs a small shop that offers its clients full-immersion flashbacks to their own pasts. With drugs, an immersion tank, and an electrical brain-induction rig, Nick and his old military partner Watts (Thandiwe Newton) let people fully re-experience their own memories, perfected down to every tiny detail, and complete with sensation.
However his life completely changes the moment he locks eyes with Mae (Rebecca Ferguson), who though comes in with a simple case of locating her lost keys, ends up walking away with his heart. And while the two quickly jump into a steamy relationship, Nick is left bewildered when she mysteriously vanishes. Convinced that something terrible has happened to her, Nick obsessively begins to relive his own memories, looking for clues. Gradually getting hints which throws him into a criminal conspiracy, with Watts reluctantly trailing along after him.
As one would expect, the film plays around with what’s real and what’s memory, blurring the lines in between, and throws twists into the meticulously constructed whodunit plot, which gets more and more complicated in classic film noir style, with the inclusion of more characters.
Here, director Lisa Joy seems to be enjoying herself re-creating the classic film noir template that consists of a femme fatale, a troubled guy in a rumpled suit poking into wrong territories, corruption etc. The film is a remarkably well put together love letter to the genre with the mildest of science fiction twists. The key one being that, rather than using flashback or exposition as a crutch, there is a way, in universe, for the characters to experience the unraveling of the plot in other people’s heads first-hand.
It is also structured and paced as such, being mostly a slow-burn investigation that requires all the pieces to be laid out just so to be compelling, and of course, director Lisa Joy takes her time putting the pieces together. But its smart, thought-provoking concept isn’t so easy to shake off.
The images of a half-submerged Miami are too eerily realistic. As Bannister sloshes around in shallows and dives deeper into the depths, the film leaves you soaked with unease, feeling visceral as well as atmospheric. It gives the film a dark and dingy aesthetic that, unfortunately, its wayward screenplay is unable to build upon.
Though Lisa Joy doesn’t lack for ideas in her writing and direction, playing with a handful of interesting musical and visual motifs throughout. Although they add plenty of texture to the setting, that’s about all these elements add up to, failing to come together into any sort of holistic thematic whole. Especially the central story that is never quite as impactful and ends up looking clumsy.
Despite her world-weary cleverness, her mystery seems hell-bent on deconstructing every little detail and tightening up every loose end, something which could have be done more satisfyingly with a better and enthralling plot. However, Lisa Joy seemed more interesting in escaping into familiarity for its characters and throwback conventions which end up feeling like repetition, hereby also effecting its pacing.
Even the film’s pretty impressive cast are barely able to enhance the material. Hugh Jackman, demonstrating that, with his Wolverine days now firmly behind him, he’s still got the chops to settle comfortably into such kind of roles. Even though his role is written negligibly Jackman manages to shine. Rebecca Ferguson is absolute as a noir femme fatale. She sells her character wonderfully even drawing us in when she gets to be deliciously amoral and nasty.
Thandiwe Newton adds great value as the hard-drinking assistant who is also incredibly bad ass. Cliff Curtis manage to be winningly sinister, while Daniel Wu bringing some wild-eyed swagger to the proceedings. In other roles, Marina de Tavira, Natalie Martinez, Brett Cullen, Angela Sarafyan, Mojean Aria, and Nico Parker are alright. On the whole, ‘Reminiscence’ is a decent neo-noir science fiction thriller which despite being saddled with a few issues manages to be an engaging watch.
Directed – Lisa Joy
Rated – PG13
Run Time – 116 minutes