SELF/LESS

God Created Man. Man Created Immortality.

Director
Tarsem Singh

Starring
Ryan Reynolds
Natalie Martinez
Matthew Goode
Ben Kingsley



This is going to be a difficult film to review. Some may think that finding new ways of decimating a bad film is a tough task – it’s not, it’s the easiest – others may believe that praising a film can be taxing, running out of inventive ways to say “this attribute was above average” – arguably true but easy enough to work around. In truth, the hardest thing for a critic to do is to talk about a film that is flat out moderate. Nothing to overly praise or criticise, just a slew of admissions that the key components were acceptable and the final product could have been better but equally could have been worse. But I shall endeavour to deliver a review that doesn’t emulate the film itself, with some sort of energy and vigour.

Ruthless business tycoon, Damian Hayes [Kingsley] has months left to live but still feels he can control his destiny. He is anonymously put in contact with a secretive company, run by the cool and calculating Professor Albright [Goode], which offer a select and very expensive procedure: transplanting Hayes’ consciousness into a new, younger body. This blank vessel is played by Ryan Reynolds and it takes some time for Hayes to acclimatise to his new physique and the prepared scripted biography. For a time, Hayes is happy with his new lease on life, while still feeling a semblance of attachment to all that he left behind. Thanks to missing a single dose of his specialist prescription, Hayes suffers painful hallucinations which feel more like memories. Unhappy with Albright’s explanation, he investigates the imagery from his visions and stumbles across a truth which questions the innocence of the procedure. The body has memories. He’s living in another dude’s head. I’d say that’s a spoiler but every trailer and almost every poster kinda establishes that. Sorry.

The first thing to note is the decent cinematography, no matter how the film progresses or plays out, it looks beautiful. This is thanks to the work of Brendan Galvin, who worked on Tarsem’s last two films. Executed with a Fincher-esque palate, the on-screen drama screams professionalism. Then we have Dudu Aram and Antonio Pinto’s score which ranges from something very chilling and unsettling to a throwback to the nineties. I can’t quite decide whether it worked or not but it fit the film decently enough. Which is a statement I could also say of the editing; all very functional and acceptable but with a trace of nineties retro which both feels oddly cheap but makes a change from the standard contemporary shaky mess. It’s only when we step outside of the technical aspects that things start to break down somewhat. As stated, this is a straightforward thriller with a simple science fiction element, there are as many of these releases as there are horror films but you rarely hear about them as they tend to go straight to DVD. It’s not an offensive film in any way, it does its job and is entertaining enough from start to finish but it lacks memorability. Any potential (and there is a vast amount with this subject matter) is executed with mediocre drive, as if everything from the cast, to the crew, to the story itself has been somehow neutered or reined in. And the fact that this film is so down-the-middle and uncommitted is probably its greatest sin. So do we blame the film or the studio for this? It could easily be a bit of both but without certainty the only culprit is the script. Expositive and a little clunky it manages to deliver a reasonably paced story with plausible characters and clich├ęd but credible developments. Having said that, the film fails to really explore the mechanics of the science it creates and all we get is a surface reaping, meaning every interesting facet to the procedure is almost entirely covered by a synopsis/trailer. Once you have a general gist of the plot, you can pre-empt the events like a clearly marked map. And with no mystery or evolution to the thriller, all we have is the chase.

I genuinely like Ryan Reynolds as an actor, I think he has exceptional talent and charisma. I think Ben Kingsley is a bit of a nut in real life but as an artist he’s a very commendable individual who seems to find himself in some of the best and worst pieces in development. Unfortunately, there’s no link between Kingsley and Reynolds’ version of Damian. No similarity in inflection, delivery, personality, drive, aside from a single character motion of tossing a set of keys flamboyantly behind one’s back to a nearby sofa. I can’t tell which actor is to blame but it doesn’t help to sell the science part of this science fiction. I’m always impressed by Matthew Goode. He’s a bit of a polarising individual but I believe he can be wonderfully menacing and really suits the deceptively villainous role; Stoker being a good example. Natalie Martinez and Victor Garber do their best with what they’re given but ultimately they are simply wheeled in and out of scenes to act bewildered. But as with most aspects of this film, the performances never deviate into hammy or grating territory.

Walking out of the cinema, the first thing that came to mind is that Self/Less is the most un-Tarsem Singh Tarsem Singh film he’s ever done. All his signature visual flare and subversion is kept to a minimum and feels more akin to a Danny Boyle release – which is not meant as a slight against either talent but the nature of the story is one I would associate more with Boyle than Singh. But I’ve come to think that might be the point. Despite the fact that I enjoyed Immortals and Mirror Mirror, other critics and the general public were less enthusiastic and this film feels like a statement piece, as if to say, “See? I can do a vanilla flick if necessary. Happy now?” Granted, it’s a step above a lot of the pap that gets released on a regular basis but really lacks the spark which invigorates and captivates an audience. Were this a release by a small independent group or a feature debut I would have easily notched it up another point but in light of past achievements of those involved, you can’t help but wonder why everything felt so banal.


Release Date:
17th July 2015

The Scene To Look Out For:
**Spoilery stuff within**
Not even a scene, just a single shot to draw to your attention. Damian takes refuge at a colleague’s residence and soon discovers that he is also linked to Albright’s procedure, having undergone the process with his young son. There’s very little that’s really sinister about the kid but the way the reveal is shot, you half expect him to be malformed or a fully grown adult. Instead it’s just a child but living in the mind of another little boy. The shot that got to me though is the peripheral nature that Tarsem so expertly captures. Damian is carrying his host’s daughter down a corridor and the little boy calls out a goodbye while waving. The camera cuts to a POV, pulling away from the room, the boy in focus but not fully framed, so that his face is partly out of shot and all we see is the slowly waving hand and his right cheek. It’s very simple, very subtle but curiously unnerving. More of that would have been greatly appreciated.

Notable Characters:
All involved do a commendable job but I was very impressed with the levels of credibility and simple emotional attachment from Jaynee-Lynne Kinchen who neatly sidesteps that precocious child actor bit and stays well away from flat school-play deliveries.

Highlighted Quote:
“I’ve just had my legs ripped off and been burned alive, give me the gun!”

In A Few Words:
“A very basic science fiction thriller that walks a very thin line between entertaining and trite”

Total Score:

2/5