There is a good film to be made about privacy and permanent surveillance. This isn’t it.
The opening sequence of what a society where everyone has Google Glasses embedded in their heads would be like, is well executed. Every person is immediately identified, adverts are brought to life, information is presented constantly. In such a mass data environment everyone’s view can be accessed by authorities, which makes crime difficult. Your view, that of witnesses, your past leading up the event can all be accessed by police. This is what Clive Owen’s detective does every day. Until some bodies start turning up where the data view can’t be accessed, which in a cyborg world raises the question of what if people can be hacked? Of course when you can’t have secrets (“show me your screen from the past 10 minutes” means someone can always tell what you’ve been doing or thinking about), people will want their histories modified. This is where hackers come in and in order to solve the murders, Owen goes under cover to meet Seyfried’s Anon.
Director Andrew Niccol continues his series of near dystopias seen in Gattaca and In Time. There are interesting ideas in all his films & yet they never quite reach the potential or claim cult status (although films like In Time are perhaps underrated). Take the character of Anon for instance, Seyfried doesn’t have much to work with – we don’t know her motives, what the hacker sub culture is like, and she remains unconvincing as someone living off the grid. The last half of the film becomes tedious, it fails as detective movie or sci fi. At one point Owen says “We actually got ourselves a who dunnit” which might have given room for a neo-noir thriller, or the film could have taken on the surveillance society more. But it remains ultimately disappointing, as if Dan Brown wrote a Phillip K Dick novel.
As a director, Niccol has an 80s movie makers penchant for gratuitous boob shots. In using a familiar urban setting (largely Toronto), and monochrome palette, it seems near but also lacks any distinct aesthetic. I criticised Garland for being Kubrick-lite, Niccol is Garland Zero.
This is a Sky Cinema production, the third I’ve seen this year (after Monster Family and Hurricane Heist). To say it is the best of these is weak praise. There may be money at Sky Studios but there is clearly no taste. These are the sort of people who have gold plated lavatories. The production studio seems to be run by accountants whose favourite film is Stop or Mom Will Shoot. The previous two films have been hopelessly derivative, and while this had some originality in plot, you sense that Sky are the studio who will fund stuff when everyone else has said “hell, no.”