By: Garrett Collins
Starring: Matt Damon, Alice Braga, Diego Luna, Sharlto Copley, William Fichtner, and Jodie Foster
Boy, those four years went by in a blink, didn’t they? Elysium marks director Neil Blomkamp’s long awaited follow-up to his well received 2009 debut District 9. Just like his previous effort, Blomkamp has more to say, and a heightened budget ($90 million, which seems tame by today’s standards) has not dampened his vision a bit. The decision to give his political commentaries amongst hails of gunfire and a science fiction aesthetic almost makes what he has to say seem even more powerful. He also shows a huge Paul Verhoeven influence, as R-rated action has been an almost lost art as of late. Yet the combination of political intrigue and very violent action is as neatly meticulous as Verhoeven’s Robocop and Total Recall. However, as nicely structured as Elysium’s plot is, it almost takes a backseat to what is without a doubt one of the most emotionally layered heroes that has been portrayed onscreen in years.When this film was announced, I couldn’t help but wonder why Damon was cast in the lead role of Max DeCosta. After all, he already had an action franchise, as he took on the role of Jason Bourne in what I have always thought to be a highly overrated franchise. Yet the role he plays here is luminous, following an arc that would at first seem clichéd. But trust me, it is not. When we first meet him, he is coming off of being a socially irresponsible and mentally irrehensible individual who in his mind is just trying to do the right thing. When his character is exposed to radiation and he has to go on his mission to hack the brain of a prominent figure in the euphoric colony of Elysium, Damon’s character is far from going through motions. Each and every one of his actions have meaning, and that was something I really gravitated to in Elysium. Again, there is no mistaking the politically driven script Blomkamp has written. But within this world, and specifically Damon’s performance, it seems like anything but.
The supporting cast was also superb. Copley (who you may remember from District 9) chews up scenery like a cowboy chews tobacco. From his very first appearance (which may seem a little redundant at first but is more than lived up to within the course of the film) Copley’s a real treat, and I enjoyed his villainess ways. Luna (who accepted the role without even reading the script) is also a standout. He proves to be both yet another character that could have come off as clichéd, but the way he feeds the role of Julio just the right amount of sugar-coated candy to make it not look like he is climbing walls made for an in the end loud yet thinking on his feet perfect character.Blomkamp’s direction was also, for the most part, pretty well done. He at times almost comes off as a throwback, as steadicam shots and rapidly changing color pallets are the norm in Elysium. He also, however, fell back on shaky cam a lot during the film’s main action scenes. And this always bugs me, as an overuse of it can make it seem like you are over manufacturing a feeling of unease. It also must be said that I am a big fan of Foster’s. But what she was trying to bring to her role with a completely out there accent was completely lost on me. She was a fine steady, classy presence in Elysium. But this (French?) dialect decision, no doubt helped along by Blomkamp, was in my mind a big misstep. As was the storyline involving the daughter of Frey (Braga) which did not have as much bearing on the story at hand as much as just come off as a convenient plot point to try and endear us to Frey.
But who am I to complain? Elysium is a superb return to violent science fiction glories of yester year. Like the best of the science fiction directors before him, Blomkamp has a lot to say. But he does so without jamming it down your throat. It also must be pointed out that the film’s score, done by newcomer Ryan Amon, is elating, throwing you into the story and enhancing its emotion to its complete core. Make no mistake about it: Amon is an artist to keep an eye on. As is Blomkamp. Proving to be more than an M. Night Shymalan style one-off, I look forward to what he does next. Let’s just hope he doesn’t make us wait another four years to see it.