Rockwell's Performance Orbits a Distant Moon
- Friday, July 17, 2009
DVD Release Date: January 12, 2010
Theatrical Release Date: July 17, 2009 (wide)
Rating: R (for language)
Genre: Science Fiction
Run Time: 97 min.
Director: Duncan Jones
Actors: Sam Rockwell, the voice of Kevin Spacey, Dominique McElligot, Kaya Scodelario, Matt Berry, Robin Chalk, Benedict Wong, Malcolm Stewart
Sam Rockwell has performed well in supporting roles in several powerful dramas recently—Frost/Nixon, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford and Snow Angels—but Moon is his coming-out party, an announcement that he's ready for the big leagues. For most of the running time, Rockwell is the only actor on-screen, and his performance is enough to move the story forward and keep the audience interested.
It's too bad, then, that the film isn't quite as good as Rockwell's performance. Spellbinding for much of its first half, Moon lays out themes and ideas that are not developed as fully as they might have been. That failure is the difference between the intriguing but somewhat frustrating drama that exists, and the sci-fi classic that Moon might have been.
Rockwell stars as a character named Sam Bell who's nearing the end of a three-year tour on the far side of the moon. He's there as an employee of Lunar Industries to harvest clean energy for earth in the form of helium-3, which, we learn in the film's opening moments, supplies 70 percent of earth's power needs. The slick corporate advertisement bragging about the change in the earth's level of pollution seems like a good thing from the perspective of our current debate over global warming, but the film's concerns are personal, not environmental. The cost of harvesting energy on the moon is isolation and loneliness, established by the shots of Sam interacting with nothing more than a series of computer screens, and with Gerty, a roving, computerized assistant given voice by Kevin Spacey, and whose only other expressiveness comes through a series of smiley-face/frowny-face icons on his display monitor.
Sam's video communications with a wife and daughter back on earth are strained not only by hints of unresolved problems, but by a technological glitch that causes a delay in sending and receiving those video messages. Under the strain of the time away from his family and other human beings, Sam begins to crack. His fragile mental state contributes to an accident aboard a lunar rover, after which Sam wakes up in the infirmary.
Soon Sam will be led into a deeper mystery about his role as a Lunar Industries employee. His search for the truth becomes a race against the clock, as a repair team draws closer to the base, ostensibly to fix the rover, although Sam's growing questions about his employer make him skeptical of the team's stated intentions.
Seeking answers to his urgent questions, Sam turns to Gerty, whose motto, "Helping you is what I do," begins to sound questionable to Sam. When Gerty informs Sam that he's under orders to keep him from returning to the rover, where Sam suspects he'll find answers to his questions about what happened to him, Sam takes matters into his own hands.
The presence of a robot companion of sorts for Sam has led to comparisons between Moon and Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, although Moon, directed by first-time feature filmmaker Duncan Jones, whose prior experience has been in the realm of commercials and music videos (Jones is the son of rock star David Bowie). The scale of Moon doesn't match the scale of 2001, but in its own, more personal way, Moon explores questions of individual identity and purpose—and possibly, faith. Sam has spent years building a model of a church and a Salvation Army building. His daughter is named Eve. He speaks of a ping-pong game as being very "zen," and of second chances in personal relationships.
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