Fiercely original and wildly ambitious, this provocative drama is often thrilling simply because it's like nothing ever put on-screen. This means that it can be somewhat overwhelming at times, as the film cycles through its dense plot, which seems to meander and stumble here and there. From inventive filmmaker Ari Folman (who made the award-winning animated doc Waltz With Bashir), this is a challenging look at identity in an increasingly digital society.
The story begins in the present day, as actress Robin Wright (playing a variation on herself) is living out of the limelight with her two kids (Kodi Smit-McPhee and Sami Gayle). Then her agent Al (Harvey Keitel) brings her a very strange job offer: a film studio boss (Danny Huston) wants to buy Robin's image to digitise and use in movies, while the real Robin is free to live her life away from Hollywood. Since her son's medical condition needs her attention, she signs a 20-year contract and lets the studio create an avatar that will carry on her career. Two decades later, advances in technology have made this kind of virtual existence available to the general public, so as a pioneer Robin is invited to the Futurists Congress, which is held in an animated alternate reality.
Essentially the story is told in two halves. The first part of the film is a smart and funny razor-sharp satire of Hollywood image-making, as the studio wants the young Robin Wright of The Princess Bride and Forrest Gump rather than the older, more serious actress. And from her perspective, she still wants to control her image as much as possible ("no Nazi or sci-fi movies!"). Then events leap forward to the animated Congress, which is a deluge of colourful characters from vintage cartoons and videogames. In this realm, people can be whatever they want to be. But the truth is that they are living drugged-up Matrix-style lives in the real world while their avatars cavort as if in a dreamland.
All of this is fiercely intelligent and telling, but never pushy. Indeed, it's tricky to figure out what Folman's message is here: he's certainly not warning people off this kind of virtual life, but he's offering a very pointed word of caution about it. The acting, both in live-action and animation, is involving and engaging, but the uneven pacing makes it difficult to remain involved, as the film seems to get lost in its own outrageous observations from time to time. But it's such a mind-bending and eye-popping exploration of identity that it can't help but be exhilarating. And adventurous moviegoers should definitely try to catch it on a big screen.
Run time: 122 mins
In Theaters: Thursday 24th July 2014
Box Office USA: $0.1M
Distributed by: Drafthouse Films
Production compaines: Pandora Filmproduktion, Opus Film, Entre Chien et Loup
Contactmusic.com: 3.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 76%
Fresh: 65 Rotten: 20
IMDB: 6.6 / 10
Director: Ari Folman
Producer: Ari Folman, Robin Wright, Reinhard Brundig, Sebastien Delloye, Piotr Dzieciol, David Grumbach, Eitan Mansuri, Ewa Puszczynska
Screenwriter: Ari Folman
Starring: Robin Wright as herself, Paul Giamatti as Dr Barker, Harvey Keitel as Al, Kodi Smit-McPhee as Aaron Wright, Danny Huston as Jeff Green, Sami Gayle as Sarah Wright, Michael Stahl-David as Steve, Jon Hamm as Dylan Truliner (voice)
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