When Duncan Jones started making films he was like an exciting young footballer with loads of potential. Moon is a good first effort, and Source Code is an excellently crafted thriller showing signs that Jones can tackle any genre. Warcraft wasn’t a step backwards, nor was it a step forward, so his latest film has been eagerly anticipated. Jones has been teasing this film for years now, however when it was announced it would be only published on Netflix, it lost some steam. Simply because there has been several Netflix misfires, and a sense of over-saturation of middling products on there. After watching the film I can say it’s the first film of the year where I can’t quite work out whether I like it or not.
It’s Berlin forty years into the future. The mute bartender Leo (Alexander Skarsgard) is in love with mysterious waitress Naadirah (Seyned Saleh). When she goes missing Leo delves into the criminal underbelly of the city to try and find her. What he encounters is a series of interesting characters in a cycle of strange nothingness.
The concept of this film is an interesting one, and when writer/director Duncan Jones began talking about it, it appeared to be some sort of future noir thriller. However the film is little like that. It’s less of a journey, or an investigation by a hero character and more of an entanglement of bad people. At first this subversion of plot is disappointing, because the cool sci-fi detective story is lost, but after a while you settle in to what the film really is. And what the film really is, is incredibly flawed. Jones does his best to bypass the Netflix original look of B-rate TV show, where it looks drab and constructed without care. Actually the visuals of the movie are quite nice, and the world building is solid. All the effects and neon colours do make it seem like it’s in the future, and Jones does enough with the camera to make it engaging. Though at times it does have that look of a low-budget attempt, without much cinematic flair.
Leo as the lead character is fine, though his technophobe nature and past are a bit hammy. The whole film has this off-colour thing about it, where the writing and delivery fail constantly. Scenes appear out of place, and characters appear uncomfortably on the screen when they talk. Elements of the narrative repeat themselves, and the writing gets itself in a knot thanks to a story that is actually very dull compared to its initial concept. Most of the film is weird, and jarring, which at least made it entertaining. Justin Theroux’s character in particular (Duck) is an outlandish one and he brings the best things out of the film. It’s a fun performance in a troublesome character and more watchable than the rest of the runtime. Paul Rudd as Cactus Bill has some enjoyable moments, yet overall felt overly unpredictable.
This review is a tough one, because I’m having trouble criticising the film despite it being pretty bad. I’m not sure I’ll ever watch it again, because the end product of the scenes, characters, and plots are utterly lacklustre. The film has something to it, a curiosity that actually makes you want to keep watching. If anything it made me realise how much I’d love creative directors like Jones to get cinema releases, so that they can get big budgets, and big screen sensibilities. Looking back on the film I will see it as a missed opportunity, but it’s not nearly as bad as all the reviewers are saying.
Is it worth your time on Netflix?
Sure because for all its annoyances, and flaws, I never wanted to be doing something else whilst it was on.