Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Dark City

This review is Spoiler-free.

In a world... that is dark... and a city... there are mysterious aliens who experiment on the human population every night at midnight. One night a man (Rufus Sewell) wakes up with no memory, appearing to have just committed a murder, and must go on the run from the detective (William Hurt) working the case, and the aliens, and the scientist (Kiefer Sutherland) who works for them. All while trying to regain fragmented memories of the life and wife (Jennifer Connelly) he doesn't remember.

Dark City is 1998 film, written and directed by Alex Proyas.

Dark City is sci-fi noir at its most conscious. Everything at first glance seems to be straight out of the 40's but with very obvious science-fiction tones. The only thing missing is a narration, which there is some of at the very beginning, but once it leaves off, it's gone for good. I am very partial to the sci-fi noir genre, so you'll forgive me if I'm a little biased, but honestly I love this movie for its premise alone.

Where it goes with its premise is not at all unworthy of love and appreciation though, by any means. It keeps things simple and the intriguing mystery slowly and elegantly comes together. You may or may not approve of the ending. I personally wished for a little bit more, but also see how more rewarding content at the end means even more complications, so I definitely see why they chose the simpler path to end on. Anything more complex or lengthy would have destroyed the film's pacing and balance. Plus, you have to leave some questions for the viewer to ponder on -- it's one of the charms of the genre.

Rufus Sewell, who is probably most commonly known for playing the bad guys in so many movies like The Illusionist, A Knight's Tale, or The Holiday is the hero here, and he really should play them more often, as good as he is at the villain. His John Murdoch is a compelling lead with a dark edge that works perfectly for the movie. Kiefer Sutherland is also the opposite of what you would know his as -- wimpy, with a deformed eye, a limp, and a limping way of speaking; he evokes images of stereotypical crazy Nazi scientists -- and not a little bit. William Hurt is the perfect brazen and stoic detective for a noir mystery, and Jennifer Connelly is endlessly elegant and demure.

The aliens, known as The Strangers, and their culture lend the sci-fi element, but are also refined in their appearance, looking human except for small details; they are always tall and extremely slender, with floor-length coats to accentuate that feature; they have no hair and pale skin. They are simultaneously classic and original villains; very refined, and subtly quite unsettling. They can use their minds to manipulate matter (telekinesis with a twist, called "tuning") and that it what gives the movie its defining trait.

Tone, as you may imagine, is always dark and understated, with high-contrast lighting and filming to match. There is also plenty of action to go around, but it's not the kind of action you'd watch the movie for; there are no huge stunts or fight scenes -- it only lends a hand to make the plot more compelling. It's a little dated in the special-effect territory, but holds up well by using mostly practical effects and not going overboard for no good reason. Violence is a classic 90's R, (gore-less blood and more disturbing in the impression of it than the actual look) and there's some fairly unnecessary (if rather brief) nudity, which is bothersome, because otherwise the film barely deserved the rating it received at all (in some ways it feels like a PG) -- language is interestingly non-existent.

Like all good under-the-radar sci-fi noir flicks, Dark City has things to say, but leaves you to decipher what exactly that is. It just tells you a creatively memorable story where it's one hero versus the rest of a mysterious and conspiracy-filled world, going to save the day with an old-fashioned determination. There is just the right amount of height in the stakes to get you involved, but leaves room for all the development and drama needed to surround it and round it out. It has all the science-fiction and action you could want, with all the complexities mystery and twists therein required. It has a richly dark and quietly thoughtful center, with reflective drama, and a lovely romance. A film like this will always have my stamp of approval. No tuning necessary.


  1. You have sold me! Adding it to my TBW list.

    1. Awesome! I hope you enjoy, and would love to hear your opinion once you're done. :)

    2. I'll try to remember to drop back by when I've seen it. Which won't be for weeks at the earliest, as I have two long things on my next-up list right now.

    3. Cool beans. And maybe by then I'll have seen Middlemarch! :)

  2. This has been on my radar for some time. Now this is a must watch!