“MOON” SHOULD HAVE GOTTEN ROCKWELL AN OSCAR NOMINATION
It’s always a real pleasure when I get the chance to review a film that very few people have had a chance to see. They’re like undiscovered gems, just waiting for people to find and appreciate them. And “Moon”? “Moon” is something truly great to find.
“Moon,” a film from last year that went on to receive critical acclaim at the Sundance Film Festival, is one of the most ingenious, intelligent, and emotionally compelling sci-fi films out there. First-time director Duncan Jones does as good a directing job as I’ve seen from hard-core professionals in capturing the essence of a story like Sam Mendes or Steven Spielberg. This is definitely up there with first films like Christopher Nolan’s “Memento,” Sam Mendes’ “American Beauty,” and Quentin Tarantino’s “Reservoir Dogs.”
This futuristic story revolves around a time when gas pollution and wasting energy are a thing of the past. Now we use fusion energy (energy harvested from the moon), which supplies the energy to 70% of the world. The company responsible for this jump into the future is Lunar Industries LTD.
Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell; “The Green Mile” and “Iron Man 2”) is an astronaut who has been on a Lunar Industries mining base on the moon by himself for the last three years. His job is to harvest the moon’s energy and send it back to Earth in small container pods. His communication with earth via satellite comlink takes months at a time per message. The only companion he has had all this time is the mining camp’s enigmatic sentient computer Gerty (voiced perfectly by Oscar-winner Kevin Spacey), which expresses itself by its Wal-Mart type smiley face that can change moods and expressions. Sam has got two weeks left to go before he can go home to his wife Tess and their 4-year-old daughter, Eve.
We instantly like Sam. He’s a funny, happy-go-lucky kind of guy. But at the same time, we see that living three years by himself has taken a toll on his mind and his body. He’s going a little stir-crazy. He tries to forget how long he’s been by himself and how utterly lonely he is by keeping himself busy. He waters his plants and names them Doug, Kathryn, and “Ridley” (haha). He listens to classical music. He watches black-and-white television shows. He wakes up to the song “One and Only.” He works out on his elliptical trainer. But even with the distractions, he still has to take pills for migraines.
After a lucid hallucination causes Sam to have a massive accident (crashing his rover into one of the harvester machines outside), he wakes up to find himself with Gerty in the infirmary. He can’t remember the crash itself and is having memory loss. After he gets up and begins walking around again, he realizes that his astronaut suit is missing and so is the missing rover.
As Sam keeps trying to discover the truth of Lunar Industry’s agenda and the reality of what happened during the Harvester accident, he finds himself stopped at every turn. But when, against Gerty and Lunar Industry’s direct orders, Sam tricks his way outside the compound to the now-damaged harvester and finds the destroyed rover he crashed in. When he looks inside the broken rover, he finds something that literally cannot be possible: Sam Bell. Himself.
From there, the two Sam Bells struggle to understand this discovery and the one question that haunts the both of them: which of them is the real Sam Bell? And which of them is the one that gets to go home to the rest of the family? This question becomes an obsession, taking the two men to emotional places they never thought they’d go. But the truth? The truth is possibly more than either can deal with.
This is not geek sci-fi that only those with pocket protectors, complete DVD collections of “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” and aspirations of being an astrophysicist can appreciate. This is a sci-fi film that surpasses the genre – an imaginative masterpiece.
As for the special effects, the meshing of Sam Rockwell playing himself is seamless. We actually believe we are seeing two people who look the same talking to each other. One of the coolest special effects of the film is when the two Sam Bells play ping-pong with each other. The pure meshing of the scene is flawless and convincing, especially with the different styles and appearances Rockwell takes with each character.
While very few moviegoers know his name, Sam Rockwell is one of today’s best actors. With a magnificent acting range that easily rivals Johnny Depp and Dustin Hoffman and a charismatic screen presence that rivals Robert Downey and Morgan Freeman, Rockwell just has that power as an actor that can arrest your attention.
He can switch from being absolutely hilarious (“Galaxy Quest”) to creepily psychotic (“The Green Mile”) to charmingly bad (“Charlie’s Angels”). And no matter how big or small his role, he is never simply some stereotypical caricature. He is always a person, someone we instantly relate to – this role more than ever. We can always feel what he feels. Connect with his every emotion. Like with this film, we feel his utter joy when seeing his daughter and hear her say “daddy is an astronaut.” His frustration that constantly pours over him by his seclusion. We absolutely believe that Sam hasn’t been anywhere near human contact for three years. That’s hard to do.
Of all Rockwell’s roles and performances, this is my favorite. This is the one that has felt the most real and impacting. It is also one of his first starring roles, as well as his most serious. It is here that he gets to show exactly what he can do when not merely the comic relief or in-the-background supporting actor. He shows he can be a star. He isn’t a character. He surpasses that. He is a person. Like Daniel Day-Lewis from “There Will be Blood” and Jack Nicholson in “Something’s Gotta Give.”
I realized in that ping-pong scene that Rockwell makes as much of an impact in playing two different characters that Edward Norton recently made with Tim Blake Nelson’s “Leaves of Grass” (a movie I loved but haven’t gotten around to writing a review yet). Even though they are the same person, they couldn’t be more different roles. It is a monumental achievement for an actor to completely hold an audience’s attention for nearly two hours when he is pretty much the only one onscreen, like what Tom Hanks did in “Cast Away.” But Rockwell does it. He makes this movie more than just a clever sci-fi idea. He makes it an in-depth look at the human soul.
Considering the Academy Awards changed their bias against the genre last year by nominating “Avatar” and “District 9,” it seems like a cheat that “Moon” was so completely passed over during the whole run of the awards season. This was an Oscar-worthy performance by Rockwell.
Mesmerizing and captivating as only great films can be, “Moon” digs its way into your psyche and absorbs you in such a profound way that you won’t even know what hit you. The ending of the film is an emotional punch to the stomach – being perfect, poetic, and beautiful all at the same time. The score is perfect. The acting is perfect. The writing is perfect. It all comes together amazingly. Part drama and part suspense, the film succeeds on both sides. It is a flawless genre film, and as far as I’m concerned the best sci-fi film I have ever seen.