Monday, December 1, 2008

Dark City: The Director's Cut (1998)

So to start off everyone should know that I seriously love this movie- it is one of my favorites. And depending which version of the film you're watching, there may be an iota of spoilers ahead. I'm talking about the director's cut. Set in an isolated urban landscape without a time, without a sun, and without an escape, Dark City follows amnesiac J. Murdoch (Jack? Jerry? Jason?) (Rufus Sewell) as he attempts to piece together his forgotten past. In his search he unwittingly stumbles upon a greater mystery engulfing the entire city itself.

He soon finds he's wanted for the murders of several prostitutes, had left his wife Emma (Jennifer Connelly) three weeks ago, and is being followed by a doctor (Kiefer Sutherland) with questionable motives, an earnest detective (William H
urt), and a group of ghastly mysterious figures ("The Strangers") led by Richard O'Brien (in a role specially written for him). As Murdoch discovers more and more about himself, largely through a reconnection with Emma, things get more and more complicated. The city's denizens keep falling asleep simultaneously, and daylight never seems to come. No one's memory is completely intact, though no one reflects on the past enough to realize. Murdoch dedicates himself to uncovering the Strangers' secrets, mysteriously developing unhuman powers within himself. It's awesome.

This movie is a really interesting mystery if you watch the director's cut- you follow Murdoch for almost the entire story, unearthing the same things he unearths and confused by the sames things that confuse him. It can seem complicated but most of the plot points come together in a way that makes (awesome) sense. Unfortunately it was deemed too cerebral for mainstream audiences so the theatrical release features an opening narration that explains a lot of the set up before you're given a chance to find out for yourself. But no matter what it is an enthralling, imaginative film. The imagery is gorgeous: costumes and buildings spanning multiple decades, deep blues and industrial yellows collide in the sunless setting, rooms suddenly increase in size while skyscrapers spurt from the ground. There are thrilling chase scenes, magic powers, sultry jazz tunes, identity crises, a believable central romance, and even a climactic badass final battle.

The cast is stellar- why hasn't Rufus Sewell become a bigger leading man? And Richard O'Brien is delectable in any context (you may know him as Riff Raff in Rocky Horror, which he also wrote, just in case that's not common knowledge). The story and atmosphere combine to create a unique dystopian noir that never fails to entertain, even after multiple viewings. My only criticism is Jennifer Connelly's performance: essentially the only female role in the film, she played it flat and boring. Admittedly some of that can be blamed on her dialogue, which is often rather stale (I guess Proyas isn't good with female characters? I haven't seen most of his other movies). It is noticeable enough, to me at least, to slightly affect my enjoyment.

4.5/5 (if a different actress had played Emma, it would probably be a 5)

UPDATE: Fuck it, I'm watching this movie again right now and I love it too much to not give it a 5, and I kind of love to hate on Jennifer Connelly's dull, whispery performance and substantial eyebrows. It's all part of the experience. This is all a long way of saying: BAM! 5/5

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