The budget for Hugh Jackman’s new film “Reminiscence” was $68 million. For this, you get a peek at Miami “after the flood” caused by global warming. This is a futuristic world in which a machine designed, originally, to interrogate prisoners via their dreams, is now used in the post-war society as a way to take a stroll down memory lane.
A private investigator of the mind (Hugh Jackman as Nick Bannister), assisted by his former partner in the military (Thandiwe Newton as Emily “Watts” Sanders), helps clients take a stroll back through time in a world where “nostalgia never goes out of style” and “the past is addictive.” One wonders how Nick Bannister (Jackman) cannot see that his kick-ass female partner would/should/could have been his perfect romantic partner, but nevermind about that potential plot point.
Various customers come and go in the converted bank building that Nick and Emily use as their dream-trip headquarters. Each individual that gets in the tank, has electrodes attached to his/her head, and receives a shot in the neck, helping him or her to revisit the past. Each time traveler becomes a part of the plot puzzle, a plot that is tremendously complicated and is, perhaps, weakened by so many threads that must come together to form the complete story.
The set for sunken Miami was built in New Orleans in an abandoned theme park. It is impressive. Director Lisa Joy said that walking on the set for the first time was one of her biggest thrills. The sets were fantastic; it is not surprising to learn that Lisa Joy (the director in this, her film dbut) worked on “West World.”
THE GOOD: CINEMATOGRAPHY
The holographic images used for the dream sequences were fantastic, created by Cinematographer Paul Cameron who said, “It needed a certain holographic reality, so the challenge, for me, was to create this illusion for the memories live on set.” Cameron, who had worked with Director Lisa Joy on “West World,” used halo gauze material, a projection system, and a curved screen. The thin mesh was stretched in the shape of a half cylinder and three 20K projectors mapped on the circular screen, including a Sony Venice 4K camera using TODD AO 2X anamorphic lenses for soft vintage-looking rear projection.
The cinematographer can take a huge bow. As he explained, “You’re laser projecting onto this fabric that has been stretched into this curved shape that’s a little out of focus.” Said Cameron, “It’s a layer within a layer and so that becomes the syntax of the film. It gets very tricky with Jackman and Ferguson, popping in and out of memory, especially when he even steps into hers for the most surreal moment.”
Let’s talk for a moment about that “most surreal moment.” Even made-up worlds usually have rules about how that world works. I commented to my companion that it didn’t seem “right” that Jackman’s character could simply step into a dream sequence that is being replayed, when it was originally a scene between Rebecca Ferguson’s lead female character Mae and the crooked cop Cyrus Boothe (Cliff Curtis). Some of the “rules” of this future world are spelled out for us. For instance, we know that when a subject is in the tank, if they are asked to summon a memory that they don’t have, they have a fit, like a small child watching a video game who might fall to the floor and have a seizure. I wanted to know the “rules” for one character stepping into the memories of another on replay of the other character’s dream. I still enjoyed the “step into my dream” sequence, but I wondered if it was really “allowed” in Lisa Joy’s Future World.
Besides the Cinematographer’s revolutionary achievements, the sunken world created by the special effects and set people were truly outstanding. Some have mentioned “Inception” as a similar film, and that is not surprising, considering that Jonathan Nolan (a producer on this film and husband of the director) is Christopher Nolan’s brother.
Other films mentioned that have the same futuristic look are “Blade Runner,” “Inception,” “Minority Report,” “Strange Days,” “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” “Vanilla Sky,” “Total Recall,” “Déjà Vu” and, of course, television’s “West World,” the previous work experience of the director) The noir attitude, lighting and theme are comparable to “Chinatown” and “L.A. Confidential.” Visually, this film is their equal. In terms of the smooth intersection of the many plot strands, the acting, and the overall impression, it is not up to the standards of most of those I have listed, but it is enjoyable and certainly very ambitious in scope.
There were some totally original scenes, such as Jackman’s rescue from a tank full of electric eels and the near death-by-piano of the corrupt cop Cyrus Boothe, played by Cliff Curtis.
I found Hugh Jackman’s acting, as a man obsessed with finding Mae, the object of his affections, believable and on target. He’s definitely got the hypnotic vocal quality to lead passengers through time down the rabbit hole. I did wonder why, in every scene, whether or not Hugh Jackman had just taken part in a fight scene, he was slightly limping (his right leg seemed injured.)
I wasn’t as solidly onboard with the casting of Rebecca Ferguson, the Swedish and British actress who starred opposite Tom Cruise in “Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation” (and is set to star in the next “Mission Impossible” film) opposite Hugh Jackman. Even though Ferguson previously appeared in “The Greatest Showman” with Jackman, portraying Jenny Lind, as a romantic duo they don’t have “heat.”
It’s hard to define this onscreen quality, but when the pairing onscreen has it and it works, you know it. When it doesn’t, you may find yourself saying, “What does he see in her?” or “What does she see in him?” Taylor and Burton onscreen (and off) had “heat.” Sigourney Weaver and Mel Gibson had it Big Time in “The Year of Living Dangerously” (1982) and so did Richard Gere and Kim Basinger in 1986’s “No Mercy.” If you want a more recent example, the recently canceled television series “Bad Girls” with Christina Hendricks as Beth and Manny Manolo as Rio provided sexual frisson whenever the two were onscreen together, although it is rumored that they didn’t really like each other in real life.
Prior to her lead in “Mission Impossible,” the 39-year-old Ferguson had smaller parts in “Florence Foster Jenkins” (2016) and “The Girl on the Train” (2016), but, for me, she was curiously unconvincing here as a femme fatale who instantly mesmerizes at least four of the male characters while singing in seedy nightclubs. The song “Where or When” is integral to the plot. We hear Ferguson singing it. Her singing is so-so, which I’ve also said about the singing in another recent offering, “Annette,” but not about the singing of Jennifer Hudson in “Respect.” Ferguson is distant, not involved emotionally, and could have been replaced by any attractive female leading lady. (SPOILER) When she ingested some mysterious drug and jumped off a building, I didn’t mourn her passing even for a moment.
It was hard for me to understand how Ferguson could so reliably captivate so many men so quickly. I remember a display at the Field Museum concerning the real Cleopatra and how captivating she was to so many of her powerful male contemporaries, although her death mask showed her to be just average in appearance.
Rebecca Ferguson, for me, was part of the reason the film as a whole did not “work.” She is an oddly inert presence throughout. She doesn’t engage us. She is remote. Detached. Is it because Ferguson’s character (Mae) in the script is ambivalent, presented as both bad and good? For much of the film we are convinced she is a scheming manipulator. However, from Jackman’s POV, she is his angelic dream girl. It takes the entire film to sort truth from fiction.
Because both depictions of Mae are out there until the very end of the film, it is hard to root for her or against her. I noticed that she wore extremely high fashion dresses in most of her scenes. The high fashion gowns had midriff cut-outs and were used in blue, red, gold and every other color. Yet her apartment has no electricity when she first takes Jackman there after her duties as a chanteuse. [This caused me to jot down “Quite the wardrobe for someone with no money for electricity!”]
Many have expressed their unhappiness with the script. It was on the Black List, as it is called, for some time, which is a list of the best scripts out there that have not yet been made into films. Personally, I liked the script, but I agree that it isn’t how “real” people talk.
I also found the water scenes (Jackman almost being drowned in an aquarium tan full of electric eels; Cliff Curtis’ character almost experiencing “death by piano” underwater) to be original, inventive, creative and well-executed.
But what about the actual words the characters speak?
Here are some lines from the script. Decide for yourself if these are good or bad:
“The past can haunt a man.”
“Just a series of moments, each one perfect. A bead on the necklace of time.”
“It’s us who haunt the past.”
“Late is a construct of linear time. We don’t deal in that.”
“Time is no longer a one-way stream.”
“Nostalgia has become a way of life.”
“The past is addictive.”
“You can’t remember something that never made an impression.”
“We’re all haunted by something.”
“The city simmers with unrest.”
“Memories are like perfume: better in small doses.”
“People don’t just vanish.”
“There is no such thing as a happy ending.”
“To find where she’d gone, I had to know where she’d been.”
“You’ve been had and you don’t even know why.”
“Stay here in this life. Stay here with me.”
“The barons stay alive by drowning everyone else. Only the rich mold the world to their delusions.”
“When you’re young, you think the future will play out like dominoes. You have no idea the things that are lined up.”
“Nothing’s an accident with Mae.”
“When the waves came they washed away our lives.”
“You’re an empty man looking for a woman to blame.”
“The truth is not gonna’ set you free. It’s gonna’ damn you.”
“I was so stupid to think that falling in love could save me.”
“Love is the thing we cling to.”
“Missing people is a part of the world.”
Look back at the films listed that this one emulates. If you liked those, you’ll probably like this one—perhaps not as much as those, but it’s definitely cut from the same bolt of cloth.