Reminiscence (Review)

⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Director: Lisa Joy
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Rebecca Ferguson, Thandiwe Newton, Cliff Curtis, Marina de Tavira, Daniel Wu
Certificate: 12A
Run Time: 116 mins

Reminiscence is the feature film debut from Lisa Joy, one of the creators of hit Western sci-fi television series, Westworld. Her co-showrunner and husband is Jonathan Nolan, brother of esteemed auteur, Christopher Nolan. This sci-fi neo-noir is set in Miami in a dystopian future. Climate change has meant that sea levels have risen and many of the world’s cities have sunk. Miami is on the borderline with its inhabitants building dams to preserve certain areas but other areas are completely submerged. Then, there is the ‘baron’ land of the rich which has a dam built all around it allowing it to be unaffected at the expense of the poorer neighbourhoods nearby. The temperatures are too hot to endure in the daytime so citizens sleep in the day and live their lives at night. 

Hugh Jackman leads the film as Nick Bannister, who runs a service with his righteous friend Watts (Thandiwe Newton) that allows people to lie in a technological bath and relive their memories. As their customers reminisce, Nick and Watts can watch their memories on a projector and coax details out of them and analyse the scene’s minutiae. Inevitably, this means that Nick’s services are sometimes called for by the police to allow them to interrogate criminals. One day, Mae (Rebecca Ferguson), a client walks in who needs help finding her keys which requires the use of Nick’s equipment. Nick becomes instantly infatuated with her and they begin what seems to be an authentic and passionate relationship. However, months later, Mae disappears and Nick cannot come to the terms with the fact that she would leave him and decides to investigates her disappearance, leading him down a rabbit hole of conspiracies and twists. As with Westworld, this is a high-concept premise and makes for very promising preconceptions, especially considering the talent involved and the A-list cast. 

Reminiscence is a thoughtful and satisfying neo-noir sci-fi that tells an engaging story, even if some of its story beats are clearly indebted to other film noir. This is partly intentional in that the very act of reliving one’s memories is to experience nostalgia. The film feels like a melding of Chinatown and Blade Runner with some of the beginnings of the ambitions of scale on display in Inception. Joy tackles some heady themes such as how we use and abuse our past and forget to live in the moment, as well as the obvious critical commentary on climate change and the rich-poor divide. 

Jackman gives a typically committed performance, proving his continued versatility across genres. Newton provides solid support to Jackman and her character acts as the voice of reason to Nick. I’ve long been a critic of Rebecca Ferguson, whose had a very spotty career so far with some terrible performances in films such as The Girl On The Train and The Greatest Showman (her first pairing with Jackman). However, she delivered an exemplary performance in Doctor Sleep. Ferguson is perfectly serviceable here but doesn’t fashion a particularly strong impression to make the role her own. Of the rest of the supporting cast, Daniel Wu makes for a slimy drug kingpin and Cliff Curtis plays against type in a villainous role compared to the rest of his back catalogue. It’s a shame that Marina de Tavira isn’t given all that much to do in what is her most high-profile appearance since her career-defining turn in Roma.

Technically, Reminiscence is very competent and Paul Cameron’s cinematography beautifully captures the intricacies of the sinking city and the seedy goings on when its citizens are alive at night, under the protection of the dark. Lisa Joy’s direction is to be admired with her high-concept and there are a couple of excellent action sequences that are sparse but interspersed in the story. A scene in a bar with a tank full of eels feels like a microcosm of the Western sci-fi fusion of Westworld and there is a kinetic rooftop chase sequence. Joy reunites with Westworld composer Ramin Djawadi, who provides an exciting, predominantly guitar-based score.   

With all Reminiscence has going for it, it doesn’t fully reach the heights that its lofty premise promises. The pacing is deliberately glacial, which won’t be to everyone’s tastes and the script is probably a rewrite or two away from being something really impactful. Those expecting a film in the vein of Christopher Nolan will be disappointed, as it is far more pensive in tone. The film is brimming with ideas but Joy isn’t quite able to explore all of them in enough meaningful detail and some end up as an afterthought. Reminiscence is more in the vein of Transcendence, which was directed by Christopher Nolan’s preferred cinematographer Wally Pfister. That film received a critical kicking but it is an equally original and thoughtful sci-fi that I’m surprised hasn’t received an overdue reassessment. Reminiscence isn’t quite as competent in its explorations of its themes but the ambition has to be admired. It is always better for a filmmaker to take a risk and it not fully pay off than to play it safe.

Reminiscence is a lot better than expected and is a well-realised concept that is a rewrite or two away from being something really impactful. It’s a shame that the reception to this film has been lukewarm but this is an admirable feature-length debut from Lisa Joy with an assured leading performance from Hugh Jackman and I’m very glad it exists as films like this don’t really get made anymore, especially with a unique female vision.

⭐⭐⭐ (Good) 

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