"Once again, packed like frozen food and battery hens, think of all the starving millions.
Don't talk politics and don't throw stones, your royal highnesses."
-Radiohead, Life In A Glasshouse
A visual masterpiece with real thrills and action amongst a fully-convincing dystopian future with heavy themes that, though thrown in your face, are so well-executed that they always feel necessary and impactful. In addition to this, the film is filled with deeper symbolism that gives it endless replay value if you are the kind who likes to dig deep into a film's ideas. It's full of stand-out scenes with a strong story to fit and enough action to keep our eyes wide open throughout, and we get rewarded for that too. To see so much well-executed in one film is rare indeed.
We need to start with the film's look because that's probably the most impressive feature of the film. Realism and science fiction don't tend to go together but this one has so many tricks up its sleeve that it's fully-immersive and hauntingly believable throughout. The single-take shots that mirror news footage of wars are astoundingly brilliant to look at but also deeply harrowing and maintain the tone throughout as well as adding extra kicks to the action scenes and making the film stand out beyond its somewhat typical plot. The amount of work that went into the shots is insane- they often aren't actually single takes (which would be hard enough) but also complex mash ups of several takes made to seem like one continuous piece of footage- it's superbly done.
The plot, a wild and oblique nativity story of sorts, isn't anything deeply sophisticated and so it fits well to the action genre. Because the action is so well-done, the story isn't lacking at all but it never feels like the main part of the movie, the surroundings are really what captures our imaginations.
We've got a near-future Britain in the year 2027 with the world in upheaval and the very real threat of human existence dying off due to widespread-infertility. It never feels distant from now though and its references to past stains like Nazism make it feel completely possible and thus deeply saddening. The attention to detail put into the creation of time and place fits so well with the unique shooting of the film and when they are combined there's more atmosphere and tension than you'll find in most horror films never mind in action movies or sci-fi flicks.
The performances are strong too (though Caine's didn't appeal to me) with the whole cast feeling relatively disposable amidst the world at war depicted in the film which makes for an unpredictable story. There's also the so very rare narrative that allows the viewer to ultimately see what they want to in the story's progression and conclusion. It gives us all we need to feel our own emotions and never pushes us one way or the other.
It's hard to pick faults with the film but its heavy atmosphere doesn't always fit well with its fairly fast-progressing story. It's rare to see a film doing what this one does that clocks in at less than two hours and I think slower pacing could have improved the film as the action scenes included are so well-done that we can afford some more space in between them to develop the story further.
The dialogue isn't really memorable and there sometimes feels like conflict within what the film is trying to achieve- the action and the moody drama don't always seem to be in unison with each other. It also seems to struggle at times to portray what the source material by P.D. James does, with some things feeling like a bit of a blur amongst the other going-ons in the film.
These are small issues though that really don't take away from the film's overall experience- it's a must-see as both an action film and a science-fiction and the social commentary and impactful themes make it a unique and memorable experience. Dig in.