Nov 2, 2015

[Movies] Self/less (2015)

As much as I do have a certain interest in (and attraction for) Ryan Reynolds, I still get surprised from time to time about some of his movie projects when they come along. Sure, I don't necessarily keep close tabs on every single project he's attached to or anything, but I'd like to think that I maintain a decent enough grasp of the major movies that are in the pipeline for actors like him. But this one came out of nowhere for me despite it's rather interesting cast.

Self/less is an interesting enough science fiction movie with a fairly compelling plot hook. It's mainly an exploration of our own mortality and what we might do should we have a chance to live a longer life. There are the inevitable ethical considerations for such technology, but such is the way of any good science fiction story - at least the ones that don't rely too much on special effects to sell them.

The movie was an odd combination of elements coming together in a somewhat atypical manner to create something new. Whether it's a good kind of new or a bad kind may have to depend on the perspective of the viewers themselves.

Synopsis: Self/less (or Eternal in some markets) is a 2015 science fiction thriller movie directed by Tarsem Singh. The screenplay was written by David and Alex Pastor and didn't do too well at the box office despite the many key names attached to the project.

Billionaire businessman Damian Hale (Ben Kingsley) is dying. A battle with cancer can end only one way and no amount of money or power will change that fact for Damian. But then he finds a business card that leads him to Professor Albright (Matthew Goode), who claims that he has a way to give Damian a new lease on life, but one that does not involve restoring his old one. At first Damian is skeptical about all the whole "shedding", but with death so close by he eventually takes the plunge and places his life in the hands of Albright.

They help him engineer his own death in the presence of his friend and business partner Martin (Victor Garber). His consciousness is then transferred into the fresh young body that had been prepared for him (as portrayed by Ryan Reynolds) and now Damian has a completely new life as "Edward Kittner". However not everything is perfect and times when he forgets to take his post-shedding medication result in strange visions and hallucinations. Professor Albright explains these are a natural side-effect of the procedure and everything should resolve itself for as long as he keeps up his medication.

Now when you think of director Tarsem Singh, you tend to expect visually stunning cinematic experience like The Cell or The Fall. This straight-up drama piece actually end up feeling a little dull and uninteresting a lot of the time, which makes it feel like Singh was either trying to do something different from his usual or his studio gave him very strict directions in terms of what to create - at this point it's hard to determine which was the case. I've seen TV shows with more creative use of shots and color shifts than this one.

The movie ends up drifting along at a horribly slow pace that is not well-balance with the action in the later parts of the movie. And the action in itself feels slow or at least out of place since it doesn't necessarily fit well with how you expect the narrative to have progressed instead. And it's not like there are big surprises and plot twists in the story - it's actually quite easy to predict how things will turn out.

I wish we had spent more time with Ben Kingsley's character so we could see the sort of behaviors that carried over in the shedding process. Sure, I don't think I necessarily wanted to see Ryan Reynolds to play the bulk of the movie with a bad Ben Kingsley impersonation, but some sort of a connection between how the two actors handled things would have been nice. And if I missed it, the maybe it was all too subtle, which still feels strange coming from Singh. Normally not picking something up in a Tarsem Singh movies means you were dazzled by all the colors and surrealist imagery and thus you missed a key moment.

The movie had a great concept at its core - the sort of classic science fiction plot hook that could be used to examine various ethical quandaries and gain insights into other aspects of morality. But instead we have a slow setup that leads to a sloppy middle act and an unfulfilling and quite predictable ending. I expected more from everyone involved.

Self/less is indeed a shadow of a better movie and it's really that it turned out this way. The movie seemed to have all the necessarily elements to create something special but ended up with a bit of a dud. And so the movie only gets 1.5 weird moment of Ryan Reynolds trying to look all introspective out of a possible 5.

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