Review: Elysium (2013)



Neill Blomkamp
Neill Blomkamp
109 min.
Matt Damon, Jodie Foster, Sharlto Copley, Alice Braga, Diego Luna, Wagner Moura, William Fichtner, Brandon Auret, Josh Blackner, Emma Tremblay, Jose Pablo Cantillo, Maxwell Perry Cotton
MPAA Rating
R for strong bloody violence and language throughout

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It’s easy to become disillusioned when a great filmmaker has a notable step down in his second outing. Neill Blomkamp’s Elysium, while easily inferior to the brilliant District 9, is still a better science fiction film than anything released to wide audiences so far this year.

Blomkamp wrote and directed Elysium about a distant future where the wealthy have abandoned the Earth due to overcrowding and have taken up residence in a giant, spinning space station sharing the film’s title. Leaving behind the poor and sick, the rich have all the amenities they expect, including specially designed medical devices that can cure any ailment, including cancer. As the people of Earth struggle to cope with disease and disfigurement, a growing resistance movement has begun that seeks to sneak people aboard Elysium where they can be cured and find a new life of safety and security.

Heading the security force aboard Elysium, Secretary of Defense Delacourt (Jodie Foster) employs questionable methods in dealing with immigrants, shooting down approaching space craft or rounding up those who make it and shipping them back to Earth. Although her methods are effective, growing pressure from President Patel (Faran Tahir) forces her to seek more drastic measures, including a zero-option that would give her full control of the presidency and Elysium itself.

On Earth, Max (Matt Damon), a factory cog, is exposed to lethal radiation leading him to offer his services to a ruthless pro-emigration hacker (Wagner Moura) who equips him with a powerful exoskeleton that will help him fight back against those that will stand in his way of getting to Elysium and ultimately bringing down their system. At his side is a longtime friend (Diego Luna), while a lost love from his childhood (Alice Braga) returns to the picture with child in town becoming expected pawns in the machiniations of one of Delacourt’s Earth-bound henchmen Kruger (Sharlto Copley).

Many sci-fi-esque films these days are lengthy and jam-packed with action and superfluous plot devices. Blomkamp keeps his film to a respectable 109 minutes without sacrificing his principles. And his admirable principles are a liberal dream, focusing on immigration, corporate greed, the indifferences of wealth, health care and even a few comments on overcrowding and the environment, though these are significantly more periphery than the others. These are concepts that science fiction has long embraced in its attempt to show how the future can be marred by greed and selfishness and only through cooperation and equality can we progress to a better and safer world. Those who disagree vociferously with these concepts will no doubt call the film out for being too slavish to liberal ideologies, but the concepts add strength to the film even if they are too obviously presented.

Damon has found a niche in the action genre in recent years, having spent three films as Jason Bourne while spending considerably less time in small, arthouse works. He’s a popular actor and when he’s not banking money for box office hits, he’s making comments about society and social equality much like last year’s Promised Land. He’s certainly a dependable and engaging actor, but the last time I really saw him give a performance for the ages was The Talented Mr. Ripley back in 1999. His post-Ripley work has been perfectly fine, but I miss the challenging performances we came to expect back in those days.

His castmates are a mixed-bag of quality with Copley being the most annoying of all the characters. As Kruger, Copley adopts a grossly exaggerated accent that teeters over the edge of good taste. While he does a satisfactory job of making Kruger a detestable, scenery-chewing villain, it’s Foster who really nails that aesthetic. Foster portrays the scheming cabinet secretary who doesn’t care about using questionable methods to achieve her goals. Foster’s French accent is completely fascinating, though is a bit overdone at times. She still gives the film’s best supporting performance, but it could have been toned down a tad.

Braga, Moura and Luna are all fine, but add very little to the narrative since their characters are largely underdeveloped stereotypes. Luna’s the most interesting, though in the briefest role; Moura’s overzealous expressions and physical movements are distracting; and Braga feels like a tacked-on love interest that needed more fleshing-out. There are a few other minor characters, but they are mere drapery for the service of the plot.

Blomkamp still has potential even if it’s less defined this time out. Sticking to scripts written by others may alleviate some of the problems as his directorial achievements are still quite compelling. It’s when you get into the conveniences of the plot that the film weakens. I’m still interested to see what he can do in his next film even if Elysium is a satisfying film on its own.

Oscar Prospects
Guarantees: Visual Effects
Probables: Sound Mixing, Sound Editing
Potentials: Original Score, Film Editing, Cinematogrpahy, Production Design, Costume Design, Makeup and Hairstyling
Unlikelies: Picture, Director, Actor (Matt Damon), Supporting Actress (Jodie Foster), Original Screenplay
Review Written
August 28, 2013

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