Reminiscence Synopsis: Nicolas Bannister (Hugh Jackman), a rugged and solitary veteran living in a near-future Miami flooded by rising seas, is an expert in a dangerous occupation: he and his partner Emily (Thandiwe Newton) offers clients the chance to relive any memory they desire. After meeting the mysterious Mae (Rebecca Ferguson), he becomes transfixed as a short love affair leads to their disappearance. His life is forever changed as he uncovers a violent conspiracy while trying to solve the mystery behind a missing client.
It’s been a tough time for science fiction diehards like myself. With mainstream interests continuing to delineate toward fantastical blockbusters and wholesome family offerings, the ambitious and timely ideals of hard-wired sci-fi continue to take a back seat. What constitutes sci-fi these days holds more in common with the brisk charms of Star Wars rather than the challenging idealism behind great works like 2001: A Space Odyssey and Children of Men (I wouldn’t call airless junk like The Tomorrow War sci-fi).
Westworld creator Lisa Joy attempts to revive the genre’s roots with her ambitious big-screen writing/directorial debut Reminiscence. In an attempt to blend the atmospheric noir of Blade Runner with a vast dystopian world connected to our current zeitgeist, Joy’s feature has scored tepid responses from critics and audiences alike. While I understand the complaints about Joy’s overambitious debut, Reminiscence’s dreamy creativity and dramatic gravitas drew me into its unique landscape.
Similar to her work on the small-screen, Joy exhibits an assured hand as a world-builder. Reminiscence’s flooded Miami landscape drips with atmosphere and texture, with Joy and her production team incorporating a myriad of run-down buildings and background crimes to indoctrinate viewers into the chaotic dystopia. Joy’s film is fittingly grand and precise in its visual style.
She and Cinematographer Paul Cameron convey their luxurious landscapes and seedy underbellies with similar levels of mystery and unease, skillfully evoking the noir pastiche without being too overt. The duo wisely shoots the blurred reality of the Reminiscent memories with an equal measure of fogginess and glow, showcasing the varied ways we reflect on our ever-fading memories. Her patient touch behind the camera is also a refreshing change of pace, as Joy’s languid pace never conforms to the showier tendencies of modern blockbusters.
Joy’s screenplay is easily the film’s most divisive element. Her wide-eyed aspirations congeal an unwinding detective yarn with timely ruminations on climate change, the growing class disparity, and government corruption. I can understand critiques of the film’s thematic ideas, as most of them serve as empty window dressing to Joy’s bustling dystopian setting. Her script spins far too many plates – both in terms of narrative subplots and theme – giving the material little room to develop a succinct thesis.
Still, there are thematic elements that land with genuine impact. Joy’s script is at its most successful when delving into the relationship between a disenfranchised populous and addiction. Reminiscence creates a world of broken characters who cope with their hopeless worldview through varying stimulating means. Joy tackles this conceit with emotional intimacy and genuine truths, allowing her characters to reflect the lingering pains felt by many in society. I’ll always appreciate movies that bite off more than they can chew rather than features that do little to engage on a meaningful level. The overambitious approach limits the characters and themes to straightforward levels, but Joy exhibits enough thoughtfulness to mask the inconsistencies.
Reminiscence’s skilled cast also helps carry the load. Hugh Jackman’s exuberant presence makes him a compelling lead as Nick Bannister, imbuing the straight-man protagonist role with sincere longing and regret. Jackman skillfully plays against his typical leading man charms while uncorking Nick’s simmering emotions to an eventual full boil. Westworld’s Thandiwe Newton is a compelling scene-stealer as Nick’s longtime friend and assistant, Watts. Newton carries the raw bravado of a hardened war hero, effectively using her rigid presence as a wall to mask her lingering discontentment. Rebecca Ferguson’s illuminating glow makes her an apt fit for the enigmatic Mae, infusing enough humanity to make the character work in her limited screentime.
I can’t say Reminiscence will be for everyone. The film’s thematic and narrative inconsistencies prevent the inventive concept from realizing its true potential. That said, Joy and company still create a mesmerizing blend of ambition and craft – reflecting the kind of innovative work that rarely gets made for mainstream audiences today.