Director: Benjamin Cleary
Starring: Mahershala Ali, Naomie Harris, Awkwafina, Glenn Close, Adam Beach, Dax Rey
Run Time: 112 mins
Swan Song is a sci-fi drama directed by Irish filmmaker Benjamin Cleary, of which this is his first feature-length film. He had previously directed the short film Stutterer, which earned him an Oscar.
Cameron Turner (Mahershala Ali) is a graphic designer and father who has been diagnosed with a terminal illness. He has a relatively quiet relationship with his wife, Poppy (Naomie Harris) and his young son, Hugo (Dax Rey). He cannot bear the thought of his family grieving for him and he is approached by a technology company led by the enigmatic Dr Scott (Glenn Close). Turner is offered the opportunity to have a clone of him replicated that could replace Turner in his home and the clone would be imperceptible to his family. He would then live the rest of his days on the remote island owned by the company. Scott explains to Turner that he would be the third subject to be cloned and he is invited to meet Kate (Awkwafina), who is also suffering from the debilitating effects of a terminal illness whose clone is happily integrated in reality.
Swan Song’s fascinating premise makes for a strong foundation. If you knew your time on earth was limited and an undetectable clone could be created that allows your family to be happy, what option would you take?
Swan Song poses many thoughtful questions and is a sci-fi that possesses more brain than brawn. Like its protagonist, its tone is meditative and unassuming. The film is clinically lensed by Masanobu Takayanagi and he captures the melancholic atmosphere of the remote island particularly crisply, an island visually divorced from reality.
Mahershala Ali gives a typically reliable dual performance as Cameron and his clone. There are some solid performances from the rest of the cast too. Glenn Close is excellent as the direct pioneering scientist who lacks empathy and the film offers a very different dual role for Awkwafina to play but she nails it. It’s also great to see Hostiles and Suicide Squad actor Adam Beach in a film with a meatier role than he normally receives, as Close’ psychologist assistant.
Swan Song doesn’t quite manage to hit its stride that its premise suggests and it can be languorous and a little repetitive in places. It would benefit from trimming twenty minutes or so to allow it a harder-hitting edge. The musical choices by Jay Wadley are also rather jarring and don’t particularly mesh with the events on-screen.
It may not quite live up to the lofty potential of the narrative but Swan Song is a solid and cerebral sci-fi that makes for an assured debut from the filmmaker.