Sunday 27 September 2009

Review: Surrogates

Year: 2009
Director: Jonathon Mostow
Screenplay: Michael Ferris John D Brancato
Starring: Bruce Willis, Radha Mitchell, Rosemund Pike, Ving Rhames

Plot synopsis is here

Despite having what some might say a dubious filmmaking crew behind them (the creators of Terminator 3 and Catwoman no doubt.) Surrogates brings about an interesting premise and a fun ride for it's short running time. Going almost the way of Gamer with a sprinkling of Asimov Surrogates tells us a tale of a world where we as humans can live however we want in perfect safety due to the fact that we would spend our waking day within a robotic "Surrogate". They don't feel pain, they can look as beautiful as they want, they are quite simply perfect avatars.

This year has been one for sci-fi avatars, with the over hyped but strangely compelling Avatar project on it's way and the horrendous Gamer only being released recently, Surrogates almost comes about as over kill as once again we as we humans decide that we're so sick of who we are that we must hide behind outlandish representation of ourselves in order to live.

Unlike the aforementioned Gamer, Surrogates believes that plot comes first before style. And despite the film's narrative is a pretty standard detective story, the screenplays intriguing world director J Mostow's maturing direction gives the viewer a much more thoughtful and entertaining film than Neveldine & Taylor's one note, over edited piece of tripe.

It helps a lot that Surrogates has a stronger cast than N&T's attractive but bland Gerard Butler. Bruce Willis is here doing what he does best but without even breaking a sweat. He is joined by a solid support cast, with the likes of Mitchell, Pike, Kojoe and Ving Rhames bring up the rear, and while none are particular stand outs, they manage to keep the film chugging along to the films conclusion.

Although lifted from many other aspects of sci-fi and pulp thriller, Surrogates manages to feel fresh with it's plot twists due to Mostow's confident telling of the story. Unlike certain aspects of Terminator 3, the film keeps to the right tone while maintaining a delightfully twisted sense of humor. At one point we see a war being fought by the U.S army despite every solder controlling a Surrogate from the safety of the military base, making war even more farcical than it already is. Moments like this keep the interest up as Surrogates is actually willing to ponder the premises implications (albeit briefly). At one point we see a nerdy white scientist has decided to have a Surrogate of a tall handsome black man. This is not shown a preserve display a la Gamer, but simply an amusing aside which shows the amount of power that the idea has.

The film's action is slighter than I expected, but far more interesting than a lot of what I've seen this year. The film also quick to display the advantages and limitations of the films characters. I particularity like the contrast of action when Willis' character is no longer controlling his avatar compared to when he is. In a world where Stallone still believes Rambo is as sharp now as he was over 20 years ago, it's good to see an actor like Willis playing more towards his age, although the grizzled, vulnerable, underdog as mentioned before, is something that Bruce has no trouble in pulling.

The style is slick, the plot is entertaining and the film doesn't over stay its welcome. Surrogates is the film Gamer really should have been. Mostow's film manages to land on the right side of sci-fi and provided me with a smile on my face when leaving the cinema and despite what my friends think, that's all I ever want when I go to the cinema.

Hear Byron talk more about this movie at Geekplanetonline