Let the masses drop dime on The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 this weekend, spending cash on the wrong film. Smarter bucks would be shelled out for the limited release, playing-in-New York City/Los Angeles-only Moon, the best science fiction film of the last few years, one deserving of a larger release and more buzz-chatter. The film’s first-time director is Duncan Jones, the son of rock icon David Bowie, and clearly a guy who adored Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Oydssey as a youngster. Moon, written by Nathan Parker, plays like an extended version of 2001’s “Hal” section, only less sinister and more philosophically life-affirming.
If that’s strong enough of a hook to intrigue you, then you should stop reading right now and consult Fandango for an early ticket. Moon brings the goods for those wishing that Hollywood would produce intelligent sci-fi, thanks in large part to a powerhouse performance from the painfully-underrated Sam Rockwell. It’s a one-man show for Rockwell, who gets to sprint the gamut of emotions, from distressed to playful, angry to optimistic. Rockwell plays the same-named “Sam,” an astronaut who, years in the future, has been commissioned by Lunar Industries to live on the moon under a three-year contract, in order to harvest a new kind of energy, known as Helium-3. Dreaming of the day that he can go back to his wife, Tess, Sam’s only companion aboard Lunar’s Sarang station if “Gerty,” a multi-functional, speaking, three-armed robot voiced by Kevin Spacey, doing his best “Hal” impersonation. One day, Sam has an accident while driving across the moon’s surface, and soon after he encounters his own doppelganger, also named “Sam.” And that’s when things really turn strange. [Write-up continued after the jump]
Above all else, Moon is a tremendous accomplishment of skills over dollars. The film’s budget was only a reported $5 million, yet, looking at every frame, you’d think this was a Michael Bay-level production. The Sarang station’s interiors are beautifully shot and constructed to impeccable measures, compelling and detailed enough to keep the film’s dominant set an attention-grabber throughout. Even more impressive are the shots on the moon’s surface, which look like expensive CGI wizardy but are actually old-school mini models. For a first-timer, Jones stages Moon like a seasoned vet, making the guy one hell of a filmmaker to watch.
Visuals aren’t everything, of course, and Jones and screenwriter Parker obviously understood that from day one. As a character, “Sam” is layered like a Cold Stone creation, always sympathetic and complex. There aren’t many other actors in the game that could’ve pulled off such a demanding gig as well as Rockwell—it’s similar to the job required from Will Smith in I Am Legend, or Tom Hanks in Castaway. Rockwell is on screen in practically every frame, but he never becomes annoying, or redundant. Mainly due to the fact that the guy has charisma for years; naturally, he exudes this mixture of bravado and vulnerability, supported by an underlying backbone full of quirkiness. He’s churned out plenty of super performances in the past, the best in my eyes coming in the overlooked “creepy kid” flick Joshua and last year’s equally passed-by, beastly-entertaining Chuck Palahniuk adapation Choke, Moon, though, could be the man’s best work to date.
A moment when Sam watches a tremendously heartbreaking and mind-blowing taped video message from a family member is all you need to see to understand why Rockwell is the best actor to whom you’re not paying proper attention.
There’s a downside, however, to writing about this film before others have seen it: To fully delve into the Sam’s various character archs, I’d have to enter massive spoiler central, so I’ll hold back. Moon is worthy of as big an audience as possible, and I fear that ruining the movie’s surprises and rapidly-unraveling final thesis would dissuade anybody reading this from flipping the bills the film’s way. Just know that Moon is cares more about the human condition and the fragile issues of loneliness and lost identity than anything else, and addresses each issue with patience and brains.
For sci-fi heads, Moon should be an event film the scope of Independence Day, but of course it won’t. It’ll come and go from theaters with ludicrous speed, and that’s a damn shame. Hollywood could give a fuck less about the science-fiction genre, so when an independent entry such as this one comes along, fools like myself wish that it’d bask in millenium duckets.
So much to love about Moon, from Clint Mansell’s minimalist, organ-driven score that simultaneously chills and hypnotizes, to the way the script subverts the expectations that audience members schooled in sci-fi tradition will place upon the presence of “Gerty.” There’s really no excuse other than availability (if you don’t live in NYC or LA, it’ll be a hellish mission to see the film, sadly) for lovers of cinema in general to give this one a fair shot. Moon should shoot Sam Rockwell into the superstar stratosphere, but we’ll have to wait for next year’s Iron Man 2 for that to ever have a chance of happening. Duncan Jones should have every major studio sucking off his agent to assign the guy some major tentpole or awards’ season hopeful, but Jones will remain in the indie scene for the immediate years to come.
Thus is the neverending Hollywood cycle, the magnetic abyss that top-shelf genre fare habitually sinks into, bypassing the mainstream.