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Andrew Niccol, the creator of such thoughtful, artful films as Gattaca and The Truman Show, is back with another film about the difference between real and artificial life. In Simone, Al Pacino plays Viktor Taransky, a director who is fed up with spoiled-brat actors and actresses. Thus, he is ecstatic when he inherits the software for a digitally simulated actress called "Simulation One" (or "Simone"), a performer who won't talk back. Unfortunately, Taransky's own ego takes over and his manipulated non-actress becomes merely a dangerous extension of his own personality.
Anne Navarro (Catholic News) writes that the film starts strong but slumps into oversimplification and redundancy: "The script … happily mocks actors and their peculiar 'requests,' hinting that maybe Tinseltown would be better off with 'synthespians'—computer-generated actors who don't talk back. Niccol plays with the themes of identity, reality and media fascination in a film that is spiked with dry wit. The film takes some deliciously dark and comical turns, but then loses its way, always returning to one joke. Niccol ends on a down beat with too tidy a wrap-up for the narrative without properly probing the questions raised about whether the connections made by human beings can be replaced or duplicated by a digital creation."
from Film Forum, 08/29/02
Writer/director Andrew Niccol's last movie, The Truman Show, depicted a man who unknowingly becomes a celebrity as he grows up in a fake environment. Now Niccol turns things around—Simone is about a fake actress, a digital hoax, who becomes a superstar and a media idol in the real world.
Michael Elliott (Movie Parables) considers the film's implications: "Simone skewers the idol-worshipping insanity which fuels the Hollywood scene. Some of the humor may be too pointed or 'inside' to be appreciated by all but there is much that will be universally enjoyed. There is also a lesson buried beneath the exaggerated humor. An idol does not have to be a 'golden calf' or a religious icon. It is anything that takes up residence in our hearts as the ultimate object of our desire. There's no question that the fanatical devotion often displayed by followers of today's pop star celebrities exceeds reason, reaching a near-religious experience."
Lisa Rice (Movieguide) is impressed: "Simone provides many good laughs, and its gentle poking at the Hollywood system is quite entertaining. The acting is superb, and the writing is tight." But she also tells viewers to beware of "anti-capitalist, politically correct elements." Similarly, Mary Draughon (Preview) raves, "Simone stands out as one of the few recent films aimed at older audiences that can be recommended."
But for Phil Boatwright, the film's non-offensive nature is not necessarily enough. "The film is long and while clean, it's boring … a superficial attempt at making a statement about the superficiality of society … predictable and unmoving."
Steven D. Greydanus (Decent Films) faults the film for depending on an actress to play a digital invention: "A timeless bit of storytelling advice is: 'Show, don't tell.' Actually showing us a truly bleeding-edge synthespian would have made Nichol's point far more effectively than anything his characters might be trying to tell us."
Mainstream critics say Simone doesn't go far enough in its lampoon. Peter Travers (Rolling Stone) says, "Niccol … gets this Hollywood satire off to a rousing start. But the middle flattens, despite Pacino firing on all cylinders. And the end just nose-dives into something silly and, worse, sentimental." Roger Ebert (Chicago Sun-Times) writes, "It's fitfully funny but never really takes off. Out of the corners of our eyes we glimpse the missed opportunities for some real satirical digging. The problem, I think, is that in aiming for too wide an audience, Niccol has made too shallow a picture."