REMINISCENCE – Review
REMINISCENCE stars Hugh Jackman, Rebecca Ferguson and Thandiwe Newton in a twisty sci-fi mystery that is part BLADE RUNNER, part TOTAL RECALL – both films loosely based on novels by imaginative science fiction writer Phillip K. Dick – which then goes Hitchcock by way of Chinatown with a deep noir flavor. Set in a flooded future Miami, where the streets are navigated like the canals of Venice and no one goes out until dark due to the heat, this is classic noir set in a gritty post-war, post climate-disaster dystopia. Essentially an homage to Hollywood classics, of the 1940s particularly, and packed with film references, REMINISCENSE is film noir wrapped in a sci-fi setting.
Dark, noirish, stylish, with that classic narration, it is a story of love, obsession, haunting memories, deception, illusions, and truth – and memories extracted by futuristic technology. If all that sounds like an intriguing brew, REMINISCENSE will hook you and take you for its twisty ride.
The mystery/thriller is the directorial debut of director/writer/producer Lisa Joy, the show-runner and co-creator of “Westworld” along with husband Jonathan Nolan. Joy, who was inspired by a wish to explore the power of memory in her original screenplay, brought many of her “Westworld” collaborators with her to this project, including director of photography Paul Cameron and star Thandiwe Newton. Angela Sarafyan, another “Westworld” cast member, also has a smaller role in the film.
Although REMINISCENSE is a sci-fi tale set in a climate-disaster future, film noir mystery is the aspect that dominants. The film is filled to the brim with film references, which is part of its fun, but it also delivers an interesting update on the classic femme fatale character. The twisty plot does not always completely makes sense but the film scores better on atmosphere and character as it blends elements of mystery, romance, thriller, and noir, with meditations on memory, time and illusions. The film aims high and while it does not really hit the mark, it does deliver good, if imperfect, entertainment for those who enjoy classic noir and sci-fi.
This noirish detective tale takes place in a dystopian future Miami, post-civil war and post-climate disaster, where streets are flooded by rising sea levels and life is lived at night to avoid the intolerable heat. Sunsets have become dawns, sunrises signal day’s end, and staying out past that has to be done in the shade, and not too late.
In this harsh world, Nick Bannister (Hugh Jackman) has built a business helping clients escape the dreary present to relive memories of a better time, using advanced technology and special skills he learned for interrogation when he served in the military during the war. The machine lets them access their memories, which are projected on a 3-D stage, as Nick safely guides and monitors his dreaming, drugged clients as they float in water-filled tank. Besides his reminiscencing clients, Nick uses his interrogation skills to help the local Miami police in investigations as a private detective.
Nick’s memory services should be a lucrative business in this grim world but Nick has a soft spot for his old veteran buddies, especially the wounded ones, and tends not to charge them, much to the dismay of his business partner and fellow war buddy Watts (Thandiwe Newton). The cynical, hard-drinking Watts is damaged goods, haunted by a fatal mistake she made during the war, memories she drowns in the bottle.
Nick and Watts operate their memory business out of a run-down warehouse space, off a side street that is always slightly flooded. But their routine lives are disrupted and everything changes after a beautiful woman named Mae (Rebecca Ferguson) turns up, seeking help remembering where she left her keys. It seems an odd request for what is probably an expensive service but Nick is too dazzled by Mae’s beauty to question the mysterious woman. Despite Watt’s worries, and a touch of jealousy due to the secret torch she is carrying for her co-worker, Nick quickly falls for Mae, and when she disappears, he falls into obsessed depression. The obsession takes Nick into a seedy underworld of criminal kingpins and corrupt cops in his search of Mae.
Actually, REMINISCENCE does not dwell much on either the climate-impacted world we see all around us or details of the civil war it references. Instead goes straight for its mystery thriller tale of obsession, love, damaged souls and the power of memory.
Hugh Jackman, as the film’s central character, plays a jaded soul who has his life upended by a mysterious woman, a character that draws on Humphrey Bogart in CASABLANCA and James Stewart in VERTIGO, among other influences, although Jackman handles his role well and creates his own character. He and Ferguson generate romantic chemistry in their scenes together, but we sense something hidden in Mae, which keep us guessing about her through the film.
While Hugh Jackman has the central role as the hardened detective with a soft heart who becomes obsessed with her, the film offers a different twist on the femme fatale character, one who goes beyond the usual one-dimensional type, a more interesting character than we expect. Mae, played well by Rebecca Ferguson, starts out like most noir femme fatales – appealing, mysterious, haunting but with a dangerous undercurrent. Classically these characters turn out to be either good or bad, but mostly are seen through the lens of the male gaze and point of view of the film’s protagonist. But Ferguson’s Mae is more complicated, more her own person, a woman coping with tough circumstances and using the tools she has to survive.
This femme fatale role is one you could easily see Thandiwe Newton in, but instead Newton plays the supporting part of Nick’s damaged partner, haunted by her past mistakes and harboring a secret longing for Nick. The casting is less expected, but gives Newton a rare chance to flex other acting muscles. Other cast members also lend good support, with Cliff Curtis a standout as corrupt cop Boothe, effectively menacing Jackman’s Nick and Ferguson’s Mae, and lingering in our memory even when not on screen.
REMINISCENCE is visually stunning, a future Miami where rising sea levels have flooded the streets and rising temperatures have driven life to the nighttime. Director of photography Paul Cameron gives is haunting, even majestic, images of this dark, watery world – images that will stick in your memory. In “Westworld,” Cameron created a visual world that was a perfect reference to the Western genre, with a sci-fi touches, and does the same here for the noir genre. Interior scenes are stylish and noir-drenched, with slanting light, abundant shadows and ever-present ceiling fans.
One feels both classic Hollywood and the Nolan influence in this world. In REMINISCENCE’s Miami, most people live in a sodden world but the wealthy live in the few dry spots, real estate they grabbed early on, behind flood walls that keep out the water, adding an income-inequality edge to their tough lives. Some scenes take place in the off-shore, where houses on stilts are now islands and in a similarly flooded New Orleans. The images create an effective, complete alternate world.
You have got to love film noir to really give in to REMINISCENCE, and if the genre does not appeal, this film is likely not for you. Although this is a sci-fi tale set in a climate-disaster future – and the imagery of that world is impressive and memorable – REMINISCENCE is the film noir mystery at its heart. Hugh Jackman and Rebecca Ferguson deliver nice performances, as well as Thandiwe Newton and Cliff Curtis, in the film’s twisty thriller blend of mystery, obsession, and romance, with meditations on memory, time and illusions. The film aims high, and while it does not really hit that mark, it does deliver good entertainment for those up for its classic noir/sci-fi mash-up.
REMINISCENCE opens Friday, August 20, at the Chase Cinema and various other theaters.
RATING: 3 out of 4 stars