Sunday, 8 January 2012

Film Review | Moon (2009)

Having seen Duncan Jones' second feature, Source Code, at the cinema last year (of which you can read my opinion right here), and having heard great things about his debut feature Moon, I have been eager to experience it for quite some time. Like several aspects of Source Code, Moon places itself on the dark side (excuse the pun) of science fiction with a strong psychological thread running throughout. It also wears its "old school" sci-fi influences firmly on its sleeve (Alien and 2001: A Space Odyssey come to mind immediately, but there are a host of others), which just created even more reasons for me to want to see it, and make it even more shameful that it's taken me this long to get round to it.

The story takes place on the eponymous natural satellite, which is being harvested by Lunar Industries for helium-3 to be used as fuel back on Earth. Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell) is the sole crew member of the Sarang moon base nearing the end of a three-year contract, with only the base's computer GERTY (voiced by Kevin Spacey) and occasional recorded messages from his wife (Dominique McElligott) for company. As his mind begins to play tricks on him, Sam becomes more and more eager to reach the end of his contract and return to Earth. However, an accident out on the moon's surface sets in motion a series of events which change Sam's entire perspective of his time there.

As debut features go, Moon is pretty darn successful in a great many ways. Jones' direction is confident and produces a satisfyingly palpable setting for Sam's experiences. Many of the choices Jones makes regarding the film's production were undoubtedly governed by the film's relatively small budget, but the majority of them serve to help pleasingly create the film's idiosyncratic retro-yet-futuristic feel. Finer details are well considered in terms of their overall effect on the feel of the film - Sam's alarm clock which plays Chesney Hawkes to wake him up, GERTY's "emotions" displayed through emoticons on a video screen, and the video-communication device that's far more brick than iPad, all feed into the authenticity of Jones' lunar bunker.

Whilst Jones without question deserves a great deal of credit, the part that Rockwell plays in the film's success simply cannot be underestimated. Apart from Spacey's GERTY (undoubtedly taking influence from 2001's HAL in his delivery) Rockwell is pretty much on his own throughout. It's hard to describe his performance without giving away some major plot points, but Rockwell boldly demonstrates a huge range and throughout the film commands every scene brilliantly. Rockwell makes Sam's isolation, and the effects of it upon both his mental and physical state, incredibly believable. Whilst I felt in one or two scenes that his performance required a little more raw emotion, it's hard to imagine many actors being able to take on the role and make it quite so credible, which Rockwell does with great skill.

However, there is a noticeable enervation during the middle of the story. I stand by Rockwell's performance as being impressive throughout; it is Jones' focus upon where things are actually going that becomes somewhat fuzzy. In fact, it's not until the final moments of the whole film that Jones makes the focus of the story completely clear. Again, it's difficult to explain without giving away some huge spoilers, but Sam's motivation in his actions was never made quite clear enough to give me a genuine reason to get behind them (other than the fact I like the character) until the very last frame, by which point it felt a little late. Once they had been made more obvious I was able to look back on everything I'd just watched with a clearer view, but it did feel as though, if Jones had structured things slightly differently, I might have viewed the film's finale from an altered, slightly more satisfying angle.

Ultimately, however, Moon is a great success. Rockwell's fantastic performance coupled with Jones' strong direction and creation of setting make the film one of the strongest and most human in the sci-fi genre I can recall from the last few years. There is a great deal of originality and imagination within Jones' film, which is laced with an obvious passion for the genre's heritage forming a satisfying, enjoyable and well made end product, and one that leaves me keeping a close and positive eye on Jones' future work.


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