Director: Adam McKay
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence, Rob Morgan, Jonah Hill, Mark Rylance, Tyler Perry, Timothee Chalamet, Ron Perlman, Ariana Grande, Scott Mescudi, Himesh Patel, Cate Blanchett, Meryl Streep
Run Time: 138 mins
Don’t Look Up represents director Adam McKay’s continuing exploration into more serious yet satirical filmmaking with a political edge. McKay is most famous for his collaborations with Will Ferrell with timeless films such as Anchorman and Talladega Nights. McKay’s foray into more serious fare started with The Big Short, an interesting and unconventional investigation into the American financial housing crisis in 2007/8 that earned Awards attention but I found its tone particularly obnoxious and its pacing disjointed. There was a lot more to like in his follow-up, Vice, a biopic concerning Dick Cheney with a transformative performance from Christian Bale, although it also runs into the same shortcomings.
Don’t Look Up is a completely fictional piece this time around, although it draws many parallels with modern society. Leonardo DiCaprio (in his first role since Once Upon A Time In… Hollywood) and Jennifer Lawrence play two astronomers, Dr Randall Mindy and PhD student Kate Dibiasky. Dibiasky discovers a comet one evening whilst she is monitoring the sky and once Mindy calculates its trajectory, he discovers that it will impact Earth in approximately six month’s time and is large enough to cause a planet-wide extinction. After confirming the findings, they attempt to warn humanity, initially by being invited to meet the President, Janie Orlean (Meryl Streep) who responds to the duo with complete apathy. The two astronomers are then encouraged to leak the news via media on a morning talk show, ‘The Daily Rip’, but the hosts (Tyler Perry and Cate Blanchett) and by extension, the public, do not take the threat seriously. The film draws many obvious parallels to the coronavirus pandemic, the climate crisis and scathing depictions of government and the media.
Don’t Look Up is an interesting piece from Adam McKay. It is an expectedly biting satire with many satisfyingly uncomfortable comparisons to reality. There aren’t many laughs here due to how close the humour hits to home. The third act is a particularly morbid and elegiac affair as the comet becomes increasingly visible to Earth. That said, Don’t Look Up runs into the exactly the same problems as his previous two films with its obnoxious and boisterous tone. McKay directs with the subtlety of a sledgehammer and the film would have worked better if he had left more to the imagination, perhaps with the aid of a co-writer, who could have reigned him in. The film’s pacing is scattershot throughout but particularly in its first half. Reducing the length by around twenty minutes would have really helped tighten up the pacing as the film doesn’t need to be 140 minutes.
There are some strong performances. Jennifer Lawrence makes the strongest impression of the cast as the doctoral candidate astronomer. She is unafraid to speak her mind, whatever that may mean for her image and career. Leonardo DiCaprio doesn’t fare quite as well and although he clearly isn’t as comfortable in comedy as he is in other genres, he still turns in a solid performance with the material he has to work with. McKay has assembled quite the supporting cast full of heavy-hitting A-listers. Of the supporting cast, Ron Perlman has some excellent moments as a right-wing, racist military leader who gets some memorable lines and Melanie Lynskey provides stable support to DiCaprio as his wife.
There are also some performances that don’t fare as well. Meryl Streep as President Orlean is serviceable but like DiCaprio, she also appears uncomfortable in her comedic moments. Jonah Hill isn’t given much depth as Orlean’s son, who is the cantankerous Chief of Staff in the White House. Cate Blanchett plays one of the vapid hosts of ‘The Daily Rip’ and her characters is pretty despicable but I suppose that means she has met the brief. Finally, there is Mark Rylance, who puts in one of the strangest performances of the year as Sir Peter Isherwell, a tech billionaire CEO of BASH. Isherwell has bleached white hair, false teeth and a lisp and the character draws clear comparisons to Steve Jobs.
Technically, the film is admirable. Linus Sandgren’s cinematography is polished, giving the film an unnatural sheen to compliment its shallowness and the visual effects are strong for a film of this budget, particularly with sequences of the comet. Nicholas Britell’s score is also strong with some memorable and ethereal themes.
Ultimately, Don’t Look Up is an interesting piece from Adam McKay. Although it runs into his usual shortcomings, this is still a biting satire and its third act in particular is particularly amiable in its ambition. It’s very interesting to see that this film has attracted a decidedly marmite response when I would consider my reaction straight down the middle.