Friday, July 10, 2009

Moon (***1/2)

Directed by Duncan Jones


Duncan Jones may be the next big name in films, and I'm not just biased because his father is Ziggy Stardust. His first feature, Moon is a film which is nearly impossible to pull off, and even harder to market. A rather pigeon-holed plot and a severely limited number of characters presents a rather alarming movie concept to most people, but somehow Jones, along with his leading man Sam Rockwell, create a clever, tense, and beautiful film.

In an unknown future, Earth is now using solar energy taken by a technological space station on the far side of the moon. The station is run by a pleasantly helpful robot named GERTY (voiced by Kevin Spacey), but all of the dirty work is done by a man named Sam Bell (Rockwell). Sam has signed a 3-year contract to be the maintenance man for GERTY, and he fulfill that contract by living on the moon, alone, with little to do but carve building models and play table tennis against himself.

Doing a standard keep-up job within his space rover outside the base, Sam sees visions on the surface of the moon, which distract him and cause him to get into an accident. He wakes up inside the base, GERTY standing over him and nursing him back to health. As his perception begins to crystallize, he begins to notice strange things, begins building mistrust toward GERTY, and makes a discovery so vital and shocking, I shouldn't disclose it here.

Much of this film's plot sits upon a twist that happens only a third of the way through the film. I'm not someone who necessarily believes in the concept of a spoiler, but I surely don't feel that this would be the appropriate platform to divulge certain details. More or less, this story shift has little to do with this film's greatness, because that credit should go toward the talent of Jones and Rockwell, who allow this story to unfold so organically and wonderfully that we are completely stimulated throughout the film, even at times when we're not very much sure what is going on.

On such a small scale (the film has only one fully-realized character, and two set pieces), it is surprising how lushly the film is executed. With the help of cinematographer Gary Shaw, the way Jones recreates this quasi-moon atmosphere is spectacular. With a beautiful set piece, ringing loud homages to 2001: A Space Odyssey, the film's polished look brings out the best in its story. The film's time-table is one of its biggest mysteries, but we are never too worried about it, because we feel secure with the surroundings.

It's great to see a film which utilizes real suspense, as opposed to the manufactured kind which plagues most Hollywood films these days. Jones presents a more Hitchcockian style, building the anxiety throughout, further emphasizing Sam's isolation in space. Despite Sam's casualness with his work, it always seems like what he's doing can be extremely dangerous (one cracked helmet, and he's done for). Particularly, the ending is exquisitely excuted with great excitement.

Sam Rockwell always seems to find ways to be brilliant in various efforts. Last year, his performance within the supremely transgressive Choke was spectacular, and the year before, his troubled divorcee in Snow Angels was the most under appreciated thing in the movies that year. It's a shame that he is seldom recognized for his talent, though based on the roles that he chooses, he doesn't seem to be the kind of actor who cares about extraneous accommodations, but just getting the job done. As the sole force of Moon, Rockwell continues this trend, and hopefully his performance does not get swallowed like all of the others.

The biggest complaint one can make about Moon, I feel, is it's lack of purpose (truthfully, this is usually the biggest fault of most feature debuts). Humor finds its way into the story on a frequent basis without sacrificing the tension, but it's rather hard to sit in the theater and think about why exactly this story is so special. All that said, Moon is a wonderful blend of a forceful science fiction and surgical character study, and is the best debut film I've seen so far this year.

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