MOVIE REVIEW – Reminiscence is a true film noir, with all the requisites and obligatory clichés of the genre, as we have a perpetually stubbled, tormented, long-suffering hero (Hugh Jackman), a sexy and femme fatale (Rebecca Ferguson), and a twisted story set in a future, in a very depressing world, full of a lot of deceit and, of course, tragic romance. But the film noir is like robust black coffee: you don’t need too much sugar, or it will be nauseating. Director Lisa Joy made precisely that mistake…
It’s hard these days to really revive the film noir genre, which has already gone through a significant change once via neo-noir. It takes a faithful Christopher Nolan to tell a story in an avant-garde way without compromising the fundamental pillars of film noir. But Reminiscence isn’t a Memento or Insomnia, nor is it a Blade Runner – though it does try to steal basic motifs from many films. There is nothing wrong with that, but more with the story elements, which are intended to be romantic or tear-jerking…
Reminiscence, a sci-fi noir, starts cleverly, as it’s set in a completely believable climate-change-induced dystopia, in a Blade Runner-like love story. It’s post-apocalypse: Miami is like Venice but full of seedy nightclubs. Hugh Jackman plays Nick Bannister, an ex-soldier who runs a business where people pay to float unconscious in a sensory depression tank. Submerged in the soothing water, with virtual reality headsets on their heads, they can travel back to their fondest memories. Time travel is made possible by technology but made desirable by the decaying landscape around them. When the world begins to overheat and suffocate, the film suggests, perhaps only memories of better days will remain.
Reminiscence is not a bad film. It’s well crafted visually, in terms of well-portioned twists or elaborate structure, and all the pieces of its story fall precisely into place by the end of the film. Still, there is a sense of clockwork precision that is tiresome and clichéd at times. Reminiscence feels like a perfectly calibrated two-hour mirage, in which we see things we’ve seen before in very many other film noirs.
Back in the day, film noir, although we don’t necessarily think of it that way, was one of the most romantic film genres. The term “femme fatale” conjures up many words besides a romance – words like cold, slippery, manipulative, insidious – but the point is that the suckers who fell for femme fatale fell for them altogether; they let love drive them over the edge. And the femme fatales failed too. Rita Hayworth in The Guild, Lana Turner in The Postman Always Rings Twice, Barbara Stanwyck in Double Indemnity – these women may have flaunted their erotic powers, but what made them so devious was that they used their own inner, conflicted romantic feelings as a form of entrapment. It was love that lit the dark fuse of noir, at least in the heyday of the studio.
But in Reminiscence, as we watch Nick fall in love with Mae, a female drifter with a dubious past, only to lose her as quickly as he found her, the romantic spark is so iconic and all too familiar that it doesn’t carry the same breathtaking sense of fate. Nick and Mae seem to go through the motions of a clichéd “hot” relationship. Mae is a cabaret singer, and Joy portrays her character as mythically glamorous: she sings at the Coconut Club, wearing a red silk dress slit up to her thighs, standing in front of an old-fashioned microphone like the one Isabella Rossellini used in “Blue Velvet”.
There’s chemistry, but unfortunately, there’s also kitsch in abundance
Rebecca Ferguson is a very suggestive, attractive, great actress who sometimes reminds me of Isabelle Huppert without being obnoxious. But I wish she had more of a present-day force in her character. The relationship between her and Jackman felt more dangerous in The Greatest Showman. When Nick goes back into Mae’s past, travels to New Orleans (which looks exactly like Miami), and uses other people’s memories to piece together his detective puzzle, what we learn is both a bit forced and clichéd. It’s about a drug called baca. There’s a gangster named Saint Joe (played by a very cool Daniel Wu, who could have been in the film more). Mostly, though, Mae seems to be a deadly manipulator in the story, defined by a Proustian shred of a song (“It seems we’ve been here before…”) because that’s what the film needs.
And Hugh Jackman, though he tries in all his roles, sometimes seems too forced here. He’s at his best in his scenes with Thandiwe Newton: they banter with great timing, and the two of them have natural chemistry.
The “New Past” is, in fact, very “old”: not only have we seen all aspects of it, but even the central motif is familiar from elsewhere: from Total Recall, the novel by Philip K. Dick. When K. Dick wrote the book and the film adaptation was released in cinemas, such a reminiscent immersion in virtual reality was a novelty, but it is now outdated. And sadly, it is not the love story and clichéd film noir, often tending towards kitsch or tear-jerking, that will play this disc to a minimal level of novelty – Hugh Jackman or no Hugh Jackman.