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Review: 'Reminiscence' (2021) Dir. Lisa Joy

Hugh Jackman, Rebecca Ferguson, Thandiwe Newton, Cliff Curtis, Marina de Tavira, Mojean Aria, Daniel Wu, Brett Cullen and Natalie Martinez


For the directorial debut of Lisa Joy, she tackles a less-than-simple neo-noir science fiction thriller that explores the fragility / strength of the human mind when used for personal gain...

In a world riddled by the devastating effects of climate change, Nick Bannister (Jackman) and Emily Sanders (Newton) run a small business that lets people access their own memories, allowing them to relive special moments or places once thought lost as both pleasure and psychological relief.

When Mae (Ferguson) arrives asking for help to find her missing keys, Bannister is instantly smitten and takes to her, immersing himself in her memories and falling in love with her. The two strike up a relationship, much to Emily's disapproval about Nick not knowing her enough.

But Nick's happiness is shattered - Mae vanishes, and he is left without answers. Knowing only his machine can help piece together what happened, Nick starts to discover a tangled, crime-ridden web of corruption that threatens both him and Emily the further he digs for answers...

A dystopian world that could scarily be one that future generations are facing on Earth is the setting for this science-fiction crime thriller. Global flooding has wiped out a number of countries and cities worldwide, and increased heart during the day forces many to only come out in the cooler nights. Makeshift dams have been erected around borders to keep the high waters at bay, along with floating taxis using canals to traverse flooded streets. But society still thrives and the world keeps turning. It's nothing like Waterworld in terms of apocalyptic damage, and a far more realistic and grounded look at what sort of future we could one day live in with no marauding pirates or webbed hands in sight.

But away from the constant reminder of global warming affecting our future, director Lisa Joy (known for her co-creation and directing on Westworld) brings a strong science fiction element to the main narrative. It's a story that veers dangerously into Christopher Nolan territory at times when introducing the exploration of human minds and memories in order to go back and piece together a complex mystery, but remains more pedestrian, familiar and free from an influx of mind-bending twists and layers of plot. You just have to keep up with the back and forward timeline exploring past memories in relation to the present.

It borrows heavily from the film noir genre in terms of sound and style- a gravel voiced Hugh Jackman narrates the story of deception, crime and betrayal. We visit jazz bars, glistening waters reflecting neon lights and street signs, corrupt cops and pencil pushing DA's seeking justice. Yet, beyond this we also have the modern thriller aspects such as unravelling twists and turns where we discover the outcome during the final act, along with a number of basic shoot-outs and chases that aren't really the stuff of excitement. It's the noir-esque moments that hold the best atmosphere and intensity.

Thanks to Jackson's on-screen charm and power as a man seeking answers, he holds the film together. He's one of those likeable actors who has forged a strong career that you can always enjoy watching.

Jackman gives the role of Nick Bannister his all, be it not a very exciting role on the outset. He does manage to sell the pain and fragility of the men when he is able, and proves his acting talent is far more now than it ever was with adamantium claws. Alongside Rebecca Ferguson as our mysterious "femme fatale" Mae and Thandiwe Newton as Nick's business partner, and former solider in arms, Emily, Jackson has some great talent to work with who are able to make good on a lacklustre story that doesn't seem to go anywhere.

This is a love story at the core; a forbidden love between Jackman and Ferguson trapped in lost memories that need to be unearthed. There's little in terms of exploring the morality of going into people's memories to get answers or personal salvation, but when it comes to helping solve crimes, it's a necessary tool. It's just a shame that the material isn't very exciting, and loses itself in too many noir twists about corruption, deception and blackmail to hold your interest. The concept of digging through memories in a dark and dangerous world that is presented here has such a promising start, but when confrontations start that are not exciting to watch (gun-fights in close quarters drag on and nobody gets hit), or chases that are too choreographed to feel real, it doesn't take the risks it should have to be something special.

Visually, we are treated to lots of CGI flashbacks that serve a purpose, unravelling the story and almost serve as dreamy moments, drenched in gorgeous lighting and style that looks like something ripped from a graphic novel, and again to this effect it's the welcome touches of the neo-noir that work the best away from the more modern, basic touches.

It's a shame that due to the pandemic and a mixed return to cinemas and taking to home streaming, this will be tarnished with the claim that it currently stands as the worst opening of all-time by a film opening in over 3,000 screens (in North America). There are certainly worse films than this that have been and gone, and proves how unpredictable and somewhat damaging a path the film industry is now navigating.

A somewhat touching love-tragedy held together by the chemistry by Jackman and Ferguson, but weighed down by a very run-of-the mill thriller that doesn't take enough risk in light of the subject matter.

'Reminiscence' is a co-production between FilmNation Entertainment, Kilter Films and Michael De Luca Productions

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