District 9 Movie Review
In the mid-1980s, a giant spaceship stalled in the sky over Johannesburg, leaving its crustacean-like crew members, nicknamed "prawns", at the mercy of the South African government. Moved them into the city's 9th district, they live in squalor for 20 years. Now the city wants them out, hiring a mega-corporation to relocate all 1.8 million of them. The job goes to Wikus (Copley), son-in-law of the company boss (Minnaar), but just as he begins his work, an accident changes everything. And he turns to a prawn named Christopher Johnson (Cope) for help.
The film's documentary prologue sets the scene perfectly, and the style continues with hand-held camerawork, surveillance images, time-coded footage and to-camera interviews. In addition to creating an urgent, foreboding narrative, this lets the filmmakers add key plot information without clunky expository dialog. Without pausing for breath, we're propelled through a spiralling odyssey alongside Wikus, from his discovery of a horrific medical experimentation lab to his confrontation with Nigerian gangsters.
The effects work (by Weta) is so raw that we accept it as real, both the giant ship floating in the Jo'berg haze and the intense interaction between humans and prawns. And by keeping the imagery so organic, the film achieves an almost epic scale that's rooted in the humanity (and inhumanity) of its characters.
Copley is terrific as the everyman at the centre--a goofy, cowardly nerd who must turn into an action hero as events progress far beyond his imagination.
Director Blomkamp casually reveals details in every scene that make the place and time a thoroughly believable. And of course, the politics are packed with meaning: echoes of apartheid, government-employed private contractors, paranoid news media, military over-reactions, local mercenaries. Each astonishing set piece takes our breath away, with big battles and huge action that are rooted in the characters. And without ever sentimentalising the prawns or making it easy for us to warm to them in any way, we are both thrilled and moved by their story.