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Dark Matter (2008)



Average Rating: 5/10
Reviews Counted: 41
Fresh: 16 | Rotten: 25

The creaky plotting, inscrutable characters, and unconvincing ending make it difficult for audiences to connect with Dark Matter.


Average Rating: 4.8/10
Critic Reviews: 19
Fresh: 6 | Rotten: 13

The creaky plotting, inscrutable characters, and unconvincing ending make it difficult for audiences to connect with Dark Matter.



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Average Rating: 3/5
User Ratings: 11,940


My Rating

Movie Info

Inspired by actual events, director Chen Shi-Zheng's socially conscious psychological drama follows the journey of an ambitious Chinese scientist working towards his Ph.D. in America, only to be marginalized to the extent that he ultimately loses his way. All Liu Xing (Liu Ye) ever wanted was to study the origins of the universe at a Western university. Upon arriving at the school, Liu immediately rents a modest apartment with a few other Chinese students and begins flirting with the pretty



Billy Shebar

Apr 14, 2009

First Independent Pictures - Official Site External Icon

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All Critics (42) | Top Critics (19) | Fresh (16) | Rotten (25) | DVD (1)

The film does a fine job of displaying the contrasts between these tense, formalized Chinese students and the faux populist American academics.

October 18, 2008 Full Review Source: Chicago Tribune
Chicago Tribune
Top Critic IconTop Critic

There is nothing wrong with taking inspiration from actual events, but it's a tricky business, and Dark Matter does no one right by sticking to the shocking conclusion.

May 2, 2008 Full Review Source: San Francisco Chronicle | Comments (2)
San Francisco Chronicle
Top Critic IconTop Critic

It is easy to see the film as two movies crammed together, neither of them being very good.

April 18, 2008 Full Review Source: Los Angeles Times
Los Angeles Times
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Liu Ye is too inexpressive for his role's demands, and the movie doesn't build to his downfall: It just zaps itself there.

April 16, 2008 Full Review Source: Entertainment Weekly
Entertainment Weekly
Top Critic IconTop Critic

There's little in Billy Shebar's script, the rambling direction by theater and opera helmer Chen Shi-Zheng - or Liu Ye's impassive performance as the student.

April 11, 2008 Full Review Source: New York Post
New York Post
Top Critic IconTop Critic

Director Chen Shi-Zheng's film has a graceful energy, and three strong performances help make this serene drama - and its shocking conclusion - quietly moving.

April 11, 2008 Full Review Source: New York Daily News
New York Daily News
Top Critic IconTop Critic

We know we're in strange territory from the opening shot.

August 15, 2011 Full Review Source: East Bay Express
East Bay Express

Xing is surprised to discover Western academics are just as ruthless as communist apparatchiks and, ill equipped emotionally to handle humiliation, he takes his guns to town.

July 5, 2011 Full Review Source: Honolulu Star-Advertiser
Honolulu Star-Advertiser

Begins with a shot of Meryl Streep practicing tai chi, and therein lies a precise encapsulation of the film's attitude toward the intersection of Eastern and Western cultures

August 8, 2009 Full Review Source: indieWIRE | Comment (1)

Buttressed by outstanding, unpredictable performances and a beguiling mood of raw nerve collegiate ambition, Matter develops erratically but intelligently.

March 25, 2009 Full Review Source: | Comment (1)

Poignantly and sympathetically gets inside the confused head of an Asian immigrant rarely seen in film, a grad student flummoxed by American culture and academic politics.

December 7, 2008 Full Review Source:

A remarkable whisper of a movie as well, for something that deals with a subject as alarming as campus violence.

April 18, 2008 Full Review Source: Los Angeles Daily News
Los Angeles Daily News

There is no need for a scene in which your hero loses touch with reality via cockeyed camera trickery and thumping techno music.

April 18, 2008 Full Review Source: Austin Chronicle
Austin Chronicle

While imperfect, the high caliber of acting as well as these lucid moments in the earlier part of the film are strong and memorable highlights with which to leave the theatre.

April 14, 2008 Full Review Source: Boxoffice Magazine
Boxoffice Magazine

Written by Billy Shebar and directed by opera director Chen Shi-Zheng, this visually sophisticated film has been criticized for turning a deeply disturbed individual into a "hero," but nothing could be further from the truth.

April 11, 2008 Full Review Source: TV Guide's Movie Guide
TV Guide's Movie Guide

A sharp and engaging study of the yearning for academic success; unfortunately, its impact is thrown out the window with a shocking and depressing finale.

April 11, 2008 Full Review
Spirituality and Practice interesting study of Chinese students trying to assimilate into the American educational system that fails to lay the groundwork for its violent ending.

April 11, 2008 Full Review Source: Reeling Reviews
Reeling Reviews

Audience Reviews for Dark Matter

A fairly watchable movie that tells the tragic story (that's somewhat based on true events) of an aspiring Chinese student who resorts to a violent shootout after his dreams are blocked by school/campus politics.
May 11, 2010

Super Reviewer

"The universe is made mostly of dark matter and dark energy, and we don't know what either of them is" - Saul Perlmutter

Inspired by actual events, director Chen Shi-Zheng's socially conscious psychological drama follows the journey of an ambitious Chinese scientist working towards his Ph.D. in America, only to be marginalized to the extent that he ultimately loses his way. All Liu Xing (Liu Ye) ever wanted was to study the origins of the universe at a Western university. Upon arriving at the school, Liu immediately rents a modest apartment with a few other Chinese students and begins flirting with the pretty American who works at the local coffee shop. Personally welcomed into Department Head Jacob Reiser's (Aidan Quinn) select cosmology group, Liu remains dedicated to his studies and optimistic about the future. Things continue to look up as Liu becomes close with wealthy university patron Johanna Silver (Meryl Streep) after the two become acquainted at an orientation for foreigners sponsored by a local church.

Eventually, Liu becomes Reiser's protégé, and makes a sizable impression at a prestigious conference attended by the pair. But attitudes start to shift when Liu's studies in dark matter come into direct conflict with his mentor's prominent theories and well-established studies. His excitement about a potential breakthrough causes him to ignore repeated warnings that he must pay his dues, and Liu's findings are eventually eclipsed by that of more studious fellow student Laurence. Determined to have his studies published, Liu goes behind Reiser's back, but he ultimately becomes the target of ire rather than accolades, with Johanna's naïve encouragement prompting him along a dangerous collision course. While Liu remains enamored with the concept of the American dream and optimistic about American science being a free market of ideas, he begins to grow dejected after his dissertation is rejected, the girl at the coffee shop blows him off, and his roommates all find lucrative jobs. Essentially left behind at the university, Liu rejects Johanna's offer for help and vows not to return home to disappointed parents. Now, as he coasts on the fumes of his unrealized dreams, the dishonored student prepares to lash out with one final act of devastating annihilation.

A fairly good film with a promising plot and class A actors but what really brought this film down I think is the way the director handled his cluttered vision of the premise and it came out too messy for me. The special effects were really unnecessary, this is an indie art house flick so its alright if you don't use special effects if its not really called to the occasion. And the repetitive use of overly sentimental shots of lead character Liu Xing was a bit annoying, I mean I already get the scene was emotional, I don't need to stare in the face of a mopey chinese guy for a long period of time contemplating his streaks of bad luck.

On the other hand though, the actors in the film were really exceptional. Lead Liu Ye, who is apparently a big shot actor in China marks his American debut with this film. The material given maybe a bit too cluttered but he did his best with it and came out really good. I can't really say his debut went out with a bang but he's almost there. Meryl Streep of course, always the pro. You can't go wrong with the lady.

Overall, I'd say the acting was exceptional and the plot is really promising but the material is just too cluttered and messy for my style. Should have left the unnecessary special effects in the cutting room floor.

September 21, 2008
Lorenzo von Matterhorn

Super Reviewer

[font=Garamond][size=3]"Dark Matter" is an incredibly superficial film that plays like a TV movie, and not a particularly good one. At times it even feels like an afterschool special. How in the world did [b]Meryl Streep[/b] ever get associated with this amateurish project? And topnotch theater actors like [b]Bill Irwin[/b] and [b]Blair Brown[/b] to boot! Mystifying.[/size][/font]


[font=Garamond][size=3]The subject matter is interesting. A brilliant young astrophysicist comes to the United States from China to study for his doctorate with a renowned scholar. His theories about dark matter are on the cutting edge, but they threaten to undermine the long-held positions of the famous professor under whom he is studying. The two begin to battle, eventually in a violent way. [/size][/font]

[font=Garamond][size=3]This could have been an exciting exploration of the politics of ideas and the difficulties that true originators face in life. The topic of students from the developing world being exploited in Western universities could also have been explored meaningfully. These are certainly uncharted waters thematically speaking.[/size][/font]


[font=Garamond][size=3]But instead of being a pioneering work of art, "Dark Matter" becomes a sappy melodrama operating at the artistic level of the 1980s TV series "Full House." Maybe screenwriter [b]Billy Shebar[/b] and director [b]Shi-Zheng Chen[/b] (in his directorial debut) got coached by Mary-Kate Olsen during the creative process. They certainly seem to have wanted to pitch their film to "Full House" fans. It's quite an achievement to take a story about astrophysics and dumb it down so far that you produce something on the order of "Full House." That's a vertiginous plummet.[/size][/font]

[font=Garamond][size=3]But I suppose we shouldn't be too surprised. Films about great artists are usually atrociously stupid and shallow, so why shouldn't great scientists get the same treatment? Who could possibly think that fans of "Full House" would ever want to see a film about a great artist or scientist? Yet for some reason filmmakers who take on lofty subject matter keep pitching to the least common denominator. That's as mystifying to me as dark matter itself.[/size][/font]


[font=Garamond][size=3]For the record, Meryl Streep's character is a rich sinophile who helps the university with its Chinese-student program. She serves as a kind of den mother, taking the students on field trips and making them feel welcome in the US. She b[/size][/font][font=Garamond][size=3]ecomes aware of the struggle between the professor (played by [b]Aidan Quinn[/b]) and his star student ([b]Liu Ye[/b]), but she doesn't get involved. The character adds very little to the story. Incidentally, in most of her scenes Streep has an excess of pancake make-up on her face, almost kabuki-like. It's never explained. If I listed all the ridiculous, strange things about this film, I'd be writing all night.[/size][/font]

[font=Garamond][size=3]Bill Irwin plays the woman's husband. He has very little to do. I'm at a loss to explain why a Tony-winning actor would accept a two-scene supporting performance in a dumb movie. I guess money's tight. Or maybe he jumped at the chance to have a couple scenes with Meryl Streep. That's understandable. I would too.[/size][/font]

[font=Garamond][size=3]Blair Brown shows up as the secretary to the professor. That was very strange to see. This [/size][/font][font=Garamond][size=3]is a very long way down for Ms. Brown from starring in the masterpiece "Copenhagen" on Broadway a few years ago. Another vertiginous plummet.[/size][/font]
April 13, 2008
Bill D 2007
William Dunmyer

Super Reviewer

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