Elysium Movie Review
As he did with District 9, South African filmmaker Blomkamp grounds this sci-fi thriller in present-day society, telling a story that resonates with a strong political kick. He also again uses effects in a off-handed way that never steals focus from the actors. On the other hand,he fails to build much of an emotional impact, even though the script continually tries to ramp up the personal drama. But the actors are all very watchable, and the film's urgent vibe keeps us gripped.
It's set in 2154 Los Angeles, a sprawling shantytown where people struggle to survive without adequate resources or health care. In orbit above the earth, Elysium is an idyllic refuge for the very wealthy. Protected by the fierce Secretary Rhodes (Foster), Elysium's only threat is illegal immigration from the surface. And that's what factory worker Max (Damon) wants to attempt after severe radiation poisoning. Even having a nurse (Braga) for a friend doesn't help him get proper care: he needs the high tech medicine on Elysium to survive. He turns to black-marketeer Spider (Moura) for help, and Spider fits Max with a devise that gives him physical strength plus technology to steal vital information from an Elysium contractor (Fichtner). So Rhodes unleashes sleeper agent Kruger (Copley) to stop Max.
Yes, the plot is somewhat convoluted, but the chaos makes it feel much more realistic than the more simplistic thrillers we usually see. It also helps that the digital effects feel so seamlessly integrated into the shaky-cam mayhem of the favelas, while even the more grandly photographed Elysium leaves the effects in the background. This allows Blomkamp to keep the focus on the characters, even if the splintering plot never draws us in emotionally. Braga's plotline is clearly designed to tug at the heart-strings, but her tentative romance with Max never goes anywhere. Max's friendship with Julio (Luna) is much more interesting.
And while Damon holds the film together with another against-type performance, it's the baddies who command the screen. Copley is terrifyingly vicious, while Fichtner nails his slick, slimy character perfectly and Foster adds a twitchy steeliness. And even if the parable is somewhat heavy-handed, it also carries a strong punch as a portrait of a privileged minority that has destroyed Earth then continues to exploit the populace for its own luxuriant lifestyle. So even if the rather over-violent thriller plot never quite kicks into top gear, there's an underlying truth here that gnaws away at us.