**1/2 (out of 5)
August 9, 2013
Matt Damon as MAX
Jodie Foster as DELACOURT
Sharlto Copley as KRUGER
Alice Braga as FREY
Diego Luna as JULIO
Wagner Moura as SPIDER
William Fichtner as JOHN CARLYLE
Studio: Tri-Star Pictures
Directed by: Neill Blomkamp
BY KEVIN CARR
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Time and time again, movie audiences are reminded that bigger isn’t always better, and throwing more money at a project does not necessarily make a better film. In fact, when a production is limited in terms of budget, cast and scope, the creativity of the filmmakers blossoms, and the focus turns back on the story and characters instead of the visuals.
We saw this happen earlier this year with “Oblivion,” which was a gorgeous looking movie but was lacking in originality and character development. It’s a painful example of how the technical filmmakers might do the best job of the year yet the film falls flat in terms of its core elements.
“Elysium” is a fantastic looking science fiction film, and it has an impressive cast. It got a lot of buzz from writer/director Neill Blomkamp’s previous film “District 9” from four years ago. Opening on essentially the same weekend as “District 9,” “Elysium” is a slicker film, but it suffers from that.
This new film takes place in the middle of the 21st century. Pollution and overpopulation ravages Earth, and the rich have moved off the planet to live in harmony in a satellite called Elysium. Matt Damon plays Max, a poverty-stricken worker who suffers a devastating dose of radioactivity on the job. With the hopes of healing himself in the Elysium medical pods, he tries to make it to the satellite while holding vital information stored in his brain.
That’s not even half of the plot, but I have trouble going on for fear of spending the bulk of this review summarizing the film. This reveals one of the inherent problems with “Elysium” – a needlessly convoluted plot that feels at times like three or four movies in the moment. The film has very little focus, which is apparent by some schizophrenic acting choices by Damon who is goofy and joking in one scene, then dark and morose in the others.
Sigh… the movie is exhausting to keep up with at times, and not in a good way.
I dearly loved “District 9,” which was quite groundbreaking when it was released. Not only did it use the found footage style to its advantage, it featured some incredible special effects in an ultra-realistic way. However, more impressive than the film itself and the world it created was the fact that this little sci-fi actioner was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture, something that is unheard of for most genre films.
For this reason, “Elysium” had a lot of anticipation behind it, and it’s very clear that it came from the same mind that gave us “District 9.”
However, the subtlety of the social commentary that we saw in “District 9” is gone. There’s still social commentary, but it bludgeons the audience and over-explains. Blomkamp is trying to make a statement about border security and illegal immigration, literally having characters from Homeland Security (played by Jodie Foster, sporting a nonsensical accent that no one else has in the film) blasting refugee transports from the sky. He also makes unsubtle ties to class warfare and inequalities in society.
The reason these themes worked in “District 9” is because that film drew a lot of social commentary from Blomkamp’s home country of South Africa. The political points were associated with global problems but they had their genesis in inequalities of a country that, frankly, much of the world knows little details about. “Elysium” is set in Los Angeles, which Blomkamp identifies in his commentary on “District 9” as something that could become the new Johannesburg, and all subtleties are lost.
There’s a lot of interesting ideas swirling around “Elysium,” and the film has a great look to it. However, it doesn’t hold together as a cohesive film. Like a drunk supermodel, “Elysium” looks pretty but stumbles around too much for its own good.