Sam Rockwell has long been an actor I’ve admired, even in films I haven’t enjoyed. He’s cropped up as memorable supporting characters in the likes of Galaxy Quest, Matchstick Men, Charlie’s Angels; he’s been hidden away in films like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford; and he’s completely stolen movies such as The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, not to mention his brilliant lead role in the highly under-rated Confessions of a Dangerous Mind. Rockwell is an actor who manages to be completely compelling regardless of how many syllables he gets to utter.
With Duncan Jones’ directorial debut Moon, Rockwell is on screen for practically every minute of the film’s 97, but this performance is somewhat of a departure from Rockwell’s usual eye-catching, witty turns. Here Rockwell dazzles by dialling it down, sure there are moments scattered throughout where he gets to exhibit his slightly kooky, deadpan delivery, but really this is one of Rockwell’s biggest opportunities – after Confessions… and recent Chuck Palahnuik adaptation Choke – to really articulate and develop a performance. The film’s plot, which I don’t really want to touch on, affords him the favour of being able to display multiple sides to lonely astronaut Sam Bell’s personality.
What I will say about the story is that it concerns Bell, who is coming to the end of his three year contact as the sole staff member of a mining station on the titular satellite. To keep him company he has a clunky, computer called GERTY (voiced by Kevin Spacey) and occaional video messages sent from his wife Tess (Dominique McElligott). From the off, through both the nuanced performance and Jones’ smart choices as director, we are given an enormous sense of the time spent cooped up in the rather limited space, and there’s a nice level of grime and life given to the set and costume design, reminiscent of Ridley Scott’s Alien. The moon itself plays a great part as this dull, slightly spooky presence, with sequences set out on its surface wonderfully rendered by modelwork as opposed to garish computer effects. Indeed for a relatively low budget piece shot over 33 days it impresses in its intelligent use of old-school effects that truly, and faithfully, give a real sense of life and existence to the setting beyond the artificial sheen of many CG enhanced blockbusters.
My major concern with Moon is how it’s being marketed. In an effort to sell this smaller film to larger crowds the copy I’ve read seems to emphasize things like ‘a killer twist’ or lace its trailer with certain frustrating spoilers, and whilst this is frustrating from the perspective of wishing to preserve the narrative’s surprises, the film is not really about such gimmicky aspects as a shock revelation or having the rug pulled out from under you. Indeed the film is kind of like a melding of cult 70’s hippy sci-fi Silent Running and Steven Soderbergh’s adaptation of Solaris than The Sixth Sense in space. Though there are certain turns and intelligent choices in the film’s narrative they are somewhat predictable for those well versed in sci-fi concepts, and the level of guesswork involved in the film’s outcome is not so much a case of the Shyamalans but moreso a case of a film actually having a plot for a change.
What I recommend is that if you haven’t yet seen a trailer or read a synopsis for Moon you should keep it that way, just go and check out the film and you will be treated to seeing the feature debut of a highly interesting future talent – Duncan Jones – and a masterful and off-beat performance by one of contemporary cinema’s most watchable and likable actors.
© BRWC 2010.
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