Thursday, June 13, 2013

Review: Dark City

And now, another one from my "I Put It Off So Long that It's Probably a Little Past Its Freshness Date" movie pile.

The prospective viewer should know that Dark City is not so much a noir film (despite its visual palette) as it is a mysterious sci-fi/fantasy film. That sentence probably gives away too much, but a fan of noir who dislikes films that delve too deeply into the realm of the fantastical will be disappointed with Dark City. However, the inverse is also true; I'm only mildly fond of noir but I liked Dark City more than either true noir or Dark City-esque films like The Thirteenth Floor and The Matrix.

Structurally, the film reveals just enough at just the right times to maintain the right balance of interest and confusion. Had it tried to be more opaque—for example, had it omitted the shot of the weird creature during one of the early chase scenes—it might have kept me from guessing as much about the explanation as I did, but it also might have turned out too plodding.

The cast is a weaker spot—William Hurt and Jennifer Connelly are largely wooden and Kiefer Sutherland's twitchy doctor is corny—but Rufus Sewell does a great job as protagonist John Murdoch. He's got just the right mix of bafflement and edge, and he's got the right look for this sort of role too. The chief villain is Richard O'Brien, playing a more cosmopolitan version of Riff Raff—yet even he and his pasty associates come off less corny than Sutherland.

In terms of mood, Dark City pretty much nails it. Obviously it's dark and supernatural, and design-wise it's never dull. The thing I began to worry about towards the end was how incongruous the anticipated rosy finale might look and feel—unless, of course, Dark City decided to defy my expectations and give us a nice fuck-you ending. The latter didn't happen, but without giving away too much I'll just say that, design- and mood-wise, Dark City sticks the landing.

And perhaps more importantly, I continued to think about the setting and characters after the credits rolled. To be considered truly imaginative, a movie must fuel its viewers' imaginations. Dark City does that. It's no masterpiece—it's ultimately kind of lightweight and not completely well cast—but for fans of sci-fi, fantasy, and related genres, it's sufficiently ahead of its time that I'd have to call it a must-see.

Star Score: 3.5 out of 5

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