Reviewed by Debi Moore
Starring Sam Rockwell and Kevin Spacey
Directed by Duncan Jones
Distributed by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Every once in a while a film comes along that provides the perfect confluence of actor, director, and storyline — as if the parties involved were predestined to work together on a particular project. Such is the case with Sam Rockwell and Duncan Jones and Moon.
Rockwell portrays Sam Bell, a man who has been stationed alone on the moon for three years in the employ of global conglomerate Lunar Industries mining Helium 3, a precious resource that is saving the Earth from an energy crisis. His sole company has been the computerized robot GERTY (voiced by Spacey) and regular video messages from his wife, Tess (Dominique McElligott), and young daughter, Eve (Kaya Scodelario). There is no real time contact with the outside world due to a malfunctioning communications system; only pre-recorded messages go back and forth between Sam and civilization. But he’s adjusted quite well and seemingly flourished in fact considering that prior to arriving on the moon he was a man with anger issues. Now he’s a dutiful, conscientious employee with a couple of short weeks left on his stint with Lunar who is anxiously looking forward to returning to his home planet and loving family.
It doesn’t take long, of course, for the viewer to realize something is amiss with Sam, with GERTY, and the entire Lunar modus operandi — that’s how these types of movies always play out — but it would be a disservice to divulge much more about the plot than what’s already been relayed via news stories that describe it. The pleasure is in experiencing the twists and turns that are revealed as the layers are expertly stripped away. On its surface Moon is a kind of mish-mash of 2001: A Space Odyssey (what movie set in outer space isn’t?), The Shining, and a favorite indie of mine, Primer, especially in mood and tone. However, it quickly transcends those influences and stands on its own as an intelligent and improbably touching film that is atmospheric as hell and never once feels fake or forced. The effects are stellar but definitely secondary to the actors — or should I say “actor” since it really is all about Rockwell, who is onscreen in just about every frame, and his performance. And what a performance it is!
The phrase tour de force is thrown around a lot in this industry, but I doubt you’ll see a better achievement in acting than Rockwell’s this year … or, for that matter, any year to come for quite some time. Maybe it’s partly because both he and the character are named Sam that it seems so right and so personal, but whatever it is, it works. In spades and then some. Undoubtedly a lot of the credit goes to first-time director Duncan Jones and the script by Nathan Parker (Jones penned the original story it’s based on). Jones’ restrained, yet assured style and command of his material rival just about anyone active in the genre today, and it’s exciting to imagine what he might do next. Although no one could fault him for taking his time and basking a bit in the glow of Moon as it is certainly well deserved. Same with Parker, who has no other screenwriting credits to his name except for an in-process adaptation of Ken Bruen’s novel Blitz about a vicious murderer who is aiming for tabloid glory by killing cops. Both of these guys are without question firmly on our radar, and we’ll be keeping a close eye on their progress within the biz.
Equally noteworthy are Gary Shaw’s DP work, Nicolas Gaster’s editing, and multi-award winning Clint Mansell’s original music. The sound crew and various design teams merit recognition also as each detail of Moon painstakingly conveys everyone’s proficiencies within their respective crafts. There’s been some quibbling as to whether or not Moon falls in the horror category, but with its thick coating of dread and a menacing evil controlling the whole thing — that says horror to me.
As a final point, any review of Moon would be remiss to leave out a mention of Spacey’s voice work as GERTY. He is by turns helpful, patronizing, passive, and persuasive in his interactions with Sam. He gives the machine humanity, and it’s not simply because we know his voice so well. This is not a case of stunt casting in the least; by the time Moon reaches the halfway point, you’ll have forgotten it’s Spacey, the actor, and believe wholeheartedly that you are listening to GERTY himself. And to whoever came up with the idea of using emoticons to relay GERTY “face” — Jones, Parker, or someone else — it was sheer genius! Were I to be stranded somewhere for three years, I can’t imagine a better companion.
Nor can I foresee many finer films coming out in 2009 than Moon. It crosses genre boundaries and offers something for everybody. If the massive talent behind it — most notably Rockwell — is ignored at awards time, it will be a shame, but rest assured Moon will pop up on a large number of critics’ (including this one’s) end-of-the-year “best of” lists.
4 1/2 out of 5
4 1/2 out of 5
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