Published on April 18th, 2014 | by Clint Davis
Summary: This minimalist sci-fi drama gives Sam Rockwell an open forum to show his talents but 'Moon' is mostly obvious and forgettable.
R | 97 min.
Director: Duncan Jones | Screenplay: Nathan Parker
Starring: Sam Rockwell, Kevin Spacey (voice)
Distribution: Sony Pictures Classics | Box Office: $5,010,163 (#161 of 2009)
Despite the best efforts of Richard Branson, most of us will only ever experience outer space through the movies…yes, even you Lance Bass. Since Georges Méliés’s 1902 masterpiece A Trip to the Moon, filmmakers have used the galaxy as a setting to inspire awe in audiences. It wasn’t really until 1968’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, the grandfather of modern sci-fi, that we saw outer space as a frightening and extremely isolated place, an theme that’s been used in countless films since.
Director Duncan Jones (Source Code), the son of David Bowie, took a rare approach to making his 2009 science fiction drama Moon by making it minimal in every way. From the first time we see Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell), we can tell he’s burned out, a result of spending nearly three years alone manning a station on the moon used to harvest lunar energy. By the time the opening titles are over, we’ve seen nearly everything in Sam’s world on the moon. Visually, there’s not much variety in Moon, but the special effects shots are convincing and well done.
Word to the wise: If you’re not a Sam Rockwell fan, don’t bother with this flick. The actor is essentially the only person in the cast of Moon, aside from the voice of Kevin Spacey as his onboard robot helper/confidante GERTY. Actors that can carry a 90 minute film by themselves are few and far between and as much as I love Rockwell as an actor, I’m just not sure he’s on that list. He shows a decent range in Moon but I felt the tone of the picture was so inconsistent that it didn’t give him a fair shot at what could have been a great performance vehicle. If you want to see what Rockwell is capable of with a challenging script, check out George Clooney’s directorial debut Confessions of a Dangerous Minds–penned by the always-interesting Charlie Kaufman.
The start of this movie feels like an exercise in isolation, á la Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity, but in the middle shifts to a lighthearted comedic tone and finally takes on a beat-the-clock action style, leaving you with a movie that feels all over the place stylistically. Perhaps I just went into Moon with storyline expectations that weren’t met but the picture just didn’t stick with me after it ended.
Screenwriter Nathan Parker gives the plot a decent twist that is revealed about halfway in, confirming Sam’s suspicions about his mission. The fabricated reality that his company, Lunar Industries, has made for Sam begins to fall apart as the time left on his contract slowly ticks down in its final days. The questions really start piling up when Sam stumbles upon the near-dead body of an apparent clone of himself. As the second Sam is nursed back to health, the pair begin a rocky relationship, leading to some awkward acting between the two Rockwells.
I began feeling less attached to both Sams as their relationship progressed because it really starts to feel like a bad Odd Couple ripoff as Sam #1 is a sensitive man of order–his loneliness is such that he names his potted plants “Doug” and “Kathryn”, talking to them as he gives them water. Sam #2 is angry distrusting; he’s quick to discover that the company is feeding them lies. One Sam represents complacency while the other isn’t willing to simply play ball, he’s got the curiosity and recklessness of a young man.
Everything in Moon is handled with subtlety, Sam’s fears are revealed through facial expressions, including the creepy animated smiley face plastered on GERTY’s interface. The movie is perhaps so subtle though that it will bore you. The closest thing resembling an action sequence in Moon comes in the final 10 minutes as Sam puts his exit plan into motion, trying to free himself from his stifling lunar station.
Even Clint Mansell’s score, my favorite part of the film, just creeps along with an eerie piano melody and some ambient synth, it feels like it’s moving you along but really is going nowhere. In other words, don’t expect a powerhouse Requiem for a Dream-esque musical theme to show up and drive Sam along.
The subtext in this movie equates work to being in jail, with Sam’s “office” isolating him from the real world; although it’s never really clear what his personal interests and desires are other than he wants to see his wife and daughter. The story also tries to the make the audience question the ethics of bioengineering and cloning. Should living things made in labs be treated as “real lives” or simply disposable creations? Parker’s screenplay certainly gives us his take on the question as Sam pursues freedom.
If you’re looking for a quiet, mostly calm sci-fi flick to put on, give Moon a shot but don’t expect a movie that will stick with you for years, or even weeks to come.