Directed by Westworld‘s Lisa Joy, Reminiscence stars Hugh Jackman, Rebecca Ferguson, Thandiwe Newton, Cliff Curtis, Marina de Tavira, Daniel Wu, Mojean Aria, Brett Cullen, Natalie Martinez, Angela Sarafyan and Nico Parker. The film hits cinemas on August 20, 2021.
Nick Bannister, a private investigator of the mind, navigates the darkly alluring world of the past by helping his clients access lost memories. Living on the fringes of the sunken Miami coast, his life is forever changed when he takes on a new client, Mae. A simple matter of lost and found becomes a dangerous obsession. As Bannister fights to find the truth about Mae’s disappearance, he uncovers a violent conspiracy, and must ultimately answer the question: how far would you go to hold on to the ones you love?
Lisa Joy’s directorial debut, Reminiscence, has landed squarely in the middle of cinema’s awkward not-quite-post-covid summer. The film, a heady mix of Neo-noir thriller and sci-fi epic, has flown under the radar for many despite its heavy hitting cast.
The film arrives this week in cinemas (and on HBO Max in the US) with an air of Nolan about it. A certainly thinking man’s sci-fi aesthetic which means its narrative may twist its way to a satisfying, yet open-ended, conclusion.
Front and centre in said twisty narrative are a trio of heavy Hollywood hitters: Hugh Jackman, Rebecca Fergusson and Thandiwe Newton. The three all land with excellent performances. Jackman the traditional stoic noir lead, narrating the film more than interacting with its diverse cast. Fergusson, the femme fatale who tracks a disjointed narrative of her own with Memento-level precision. Finally, Newton who puts on a career-best performance as the haunted Watts.
Joy builds an intriguing and rich dystopian future in her script. The Miami of Reminiscence is not the Miami of today. In a most satisfying twist Joy doesn’t feel the need to fill in all the blanks for the audience. The film takes place after World War III. We also know that much of the world has now become flooded through climate change. Miami exists on an opposing schedule to everyday life, its residents sleeping during the day and living their lives at night away from the blazing sunshine. This version of our world is recognisable but twisted enough to become incredibly engaging to the audience.
Equally engaging is the technology used by Nick Bannister (Jackman) and Watts to access clients lost memories. The origins of their system aren’t explored. They simply exist which to this reviewer is how the best high-concept sci-fi should engage its audience. The need to go to extreme lengths to explain the premise would only bloat what is, in this instance, an incredibly concise narrative.
Joy’s script splits its time between moments now, flashbacks or through memories explored by Nick. At times Joy takes pleasure in not telling us which of those we are in. For example, key moments between Nick and Mae (Fergusson) are often open to interpretation. By the end of each of these moments Joy will tell us where we are. But the journey to those conclusions can be fraught with uncertainty.
The noir mystery of Reminiscence is ultimately a satisfying experience. It leans in heavily to the idea of happy endings, but does so in a way which is still downbeat. However it decides to present its endings the film is still a Nolan-adjacent project. That means even when it skews happier it’s still thought provoking.
On a reported $68M budget, Reminiscence looks great. The Miami cityscape is entirely convincing with its flooded zones and large dams. However great the city looks there are still some moments of green screen work which are slightly off. Minor niggles in a visually impressive film. The film also boasts an excellent score from Ramin Djawadi. It sits perfectly with the Neo-noir atmosphere without caricaturing the genre. It’s original, it’s loud and well worth listening to in isolation.
In a sea of high profile IP’s and sequels, Reminiscence stands out as a brave attempt to tell an original story. With strong performances by Fergusson, Newton and Jackman, the film stands out as one of 2021’s best adult sci-fi originals.
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