A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Dark City

October 17, 2010

Dark City

Way back at the start of this movie project when we reviewed Knowing I talked about how I had purchased it based only on the fact that it had the name of Alex Proyas attached to it. For me that name has a special magic, and this movie is the reason why. I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve seen this film. At one point after this came out on DVD I watched this movie almost every day. It’s such a wonderfully put together story, such a strange and mysterious world and filled with such strange and broken characters.

I could over-simplify and say that this is a noir sci-fi mystery, which is mostly true. At its core it excels at presenting that dark, moody look of the old noir mysteries of the past, and mixing in a ton of cool special effects with a sci-fi story behind it all. Mix this with an astonishing cast of brilliant actors, a wonderful script, and magical production design. Even with all that there’s something other and beyond that which brings the whole movie together. It’s all those things, but it’s also more than the sum of its parts.

The movie is called Dark City, and the city is very much one of the stars of the film. Before we meet any of the characters we get a long series of establishing shots that go through the grimy, damp, dark and smoggy streets of the bustling metropolis where this whole film takes place. It’s all narrow streets and looming buildings, elevated train rails and traffic on busy thoroughfares. In design the city is vague about its time period, but it has a sort of art deco 1930s feel, which is in keeping with the noir feel. The bustling crowds that inhabit its streets are all caught in their anonymous lives.

It is one of those little lives upon which the movie concentrates. At the start of the film whole city falls asleep at the stroke of midnight – slumped on their stools in the delis of the city or over the wheels of their cars. Everything grinds to a halt, but alone in a hotel bathroom a single man wakes up. He has no memory of who he is, where he is, or how he got there – and there are strange forces at work in his life. As he sets out to figure out his life he finds that he is named John Murdock and that he is the prime suspect in a series of murders. His beautiful wife has been having an affair. There’s a mysterious limping, stuttering doctor who knows something about his past. Most disturbing of all are the mysterious pale Strangers in long black coats who seem to be following him. It’s all a mystery, like I said, but a sci-fi mystery. Which means that in order to solve the mystery – in order to figure out who he is and what’s going on – John has to understand the nature of the world he’s living in.

Another aspect of what makes this movie so astonishing is the cast. How on earth did Proyas get this collection of well known and talented actors for such an offbeat and peculiar project? In the role of John there’s Rufus Sewell, who was unknown to me at the time which works for a sort of sympathetic mystery man character. Then there’s Jennifer Connelly as his wife Emma. She’s perfect as a sort of smouldering noir heroine. Her every heavy-lidded glare speaks volumes and she also has a sort of innocence about her which is perfect for the role she’s playing as Emma is used by the mysterious doctor, the police and the strangers in attempts to get to John. As the driven police detective determined to get to the bottom of the mystery no matter what the price is William Hurt, who has been one of my favorite character actors for years. He has a knack for playing these soft-spoken people with a core of steel upon whom entire worlds can turn. Check him out in Fearless or Kiss of the Spider Woman. So it’s a delight to see him here. He brings a great sense of gravitas to the film and helps the audience to unravel the mystery as his own character gets caught up in it. As the doctor there’s Keefer Sutherland. He jokes on the commentary track that when his agent gave him the script he thought they had gotten the wrong Sutherland and had meant to pitch the role to Donald. I love the way he’s chosen to portray Dr. Schreber. He’s so clearly and literally broken. he has trouble walking, trouble speaking. He seems completely weak and beaten throughout the entire film, but has secret schemes of his own which he plans to enact. And there are the Strangers. All of them are creepy and cool in their leather outfits with their pale bald heads, but chief among them in my regard is of course Richard O’Brien of Rocky Horror fame as Mr. Hand. His performance is so sinister, so creepy and so utterly alien that he brings a great deal of tension and power to the movie all on his own.

Further kudos have to go to the special effects teams and designers who worked on this film. The city itself, and the creepy clockwork bowls beneath it, are brought to life through a number of claustrophobic sets, a whole lot of intricate and beautiful work with scale models, and a liberal sprinkling of computer effects and morphing. Everything blends to form a sort of dream world. It’s a city of no particular time with no particular geography or landmarks. Just endless buildings, girders and streets where the Strangers go about their peculiar experiments.

I love, love, love, love, LOVE this movie. As I’ve said it combines a great script, a great cast and great design to make a very cool experience, but for me it has more impact than that. I think it comes down to the payoff at the end of the film. Deep down I have the unshakable belief that this movie holds a truth about our own world. I know in my heart that here in the world we inhabit outside of the movies and the internet the same can be said of our lives as of John’s. If you truly understand the world you live in then you gain the power to change it for the better.

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October 17, 2010 - Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , ,

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