By Dan Metcalf, Jr.
Clipper Film Correspondent
Rated R for strong bloody violence and language throughout.
Starring Matt Damon, Jodie Foster, Sharlto Copley, Alice Braga, Diego Luna, Wagner Moura, William Fichtner, Brandon Auret, Josh Blacker, Emma Tremblay, Jose Pablo Cantillo, Maxwell Perry Cotton, Faran Tahir, Valentina Giron, Adrian Holmes, Jared Keeso.
Written and Directed by Neill Blomkamp.
District 9 was awesome. It was an incredible, raw story told by a guy who's a rarity among major filmmakers – a guy with a flair for original thinking and storytelling, not just another copycat director. Neill Blomkamp may be part of a small fraternity of filmmakers who go against the grain, despite Hollywood's lust for sure things (Chris Nolan and Joss Whedon are among that small group). Everyone who loved District 9 as much as I did had great expectations for Elysium, Blomkamp's next big project, out in theaters this weekend.
Matt Damon stars as Max, a man who grew up a poor orphan in the Los Angeles area in the mid-22nd Century. Most the the planet is overrun by pollution and overpopulation, prompting the elite wealthy to construct a paradise that orbits Earth from space called Elysium. As a child, Max (Maxwell Perry Cotton) dreams of one day going to Elysium with his best friend and fellow orphan Frey (Valentina Giron). As an adult, Max has trouble staying out of trouble or keeping a steady job. After getting his arm broken by two robot police, he reunites with Frey (Alice Braga) at the local hospital, where Frey's daughter is dying of leukemia. After an industrial accident exposes Max to extreme nuclear radiation, he is sent home with a few pills that are supposed to make him comfortable before dying in the next 6 days. Desperate for a solution other than death, Max makes a deal with a local gangster to get fitted with a robotic exoskeleton for added strength, and a mission to download technical information from the brain of John Carlyle (William Fichtner) a robot industry owner and Elysium resident - before he takes the next shuttle from his Earth factory back to his own mansion in the sky.
At the same time, a ruthless “homeland security” leader on Elysium named Delacourt (Jodie Foster) has made a deal with Carlyle to stage a coup because she thinks Elysium's leaders have become too soft on immigration and have reprimanded her for killing people while using illegal shuttles to try and enter the satellite Shangri-la. Most of the “illegals” only wish to use the wealthy resident's high-tech healing machines that can do everything from reconstructing body parts to curing cancer. Delacourt's barbaric methods are often carried out by a filthy Earthbound agent named Kruger (Sharlto Copley), an evil man who takes extreme joy in killing.
As Max tries to evade Kruger, Frey is taken hostage and the hero must turn himself in to save his friend and her sick daughter. After crash landing on Elysium, Max must fight off robots and Kruger to download the reboot ordered by Delacourt that might save humanity or make Elysium even more restrictive.
Like District 9, Blomkamp has succeeded in creating another imaginative world with incredible special effects and intense action in Elysium. He gets credit for not following a formula, although much of the tone and levels of gory violence are pretty close to District 9.
Despite its incredible scenery and intense story, there are a few problems for Elysium. One is the performance of Jodie Foster, which seems a little annoying and cartoonish, delivered with an accent that straddles somewhere between French, German and English. Maybe she was trying to mimic the elusive South African (Blomkamp and Copley's native land) dialect, but it's extremely distracting. Also, no one is THAT heartless (I think).
Elysium's other flaw is it's heavy-handed social commentary, which comes across as very one-sided on the topic of immigration, simplistic on its treatment of healthcare (as if there will be miracle healthcare machines that only cure rich people 120 years into the future), and overly progressive on the idea of redistribution of wealth (i.e. “Occupy Earth”). Blomkamp seems to foster the view that all rich people are destined to become heartless squatters, which may or may not appeal to half of the audience (or at least 47 percent).
So, Elysium is a good movie and a worthy effort from an obviously gifted filmmaker. The violence and “messages” might not be for everybody, but the movie is full of rare sights coming from a film industry that seems bent on taking no risks and insists on churning out a lot of repetitive crap.