Movie review: 'Elysium' is a confusing mess

For the News-DemocratAugust 8, 2013 

What It's About

Dystopian futures are not for sissies. An allegory about the great unequal divide between the Haves and Have-Nots, a grisly "Elysium" is set in 2154, when a polluted, overcrowded Earth is a hellhole while the wealthy have escaped to an outer-space paradise.

Following a similar trajectory of "Oblivion" and "After Earth," this sci-fi thriller permeates desperation throughout, as drones and droids patrol the wretched landscape. The film isn't subtle as a raw rumination about immigrants and America's health care either.

South African Neill Blomkamp, the very talented director of "District 9," presents a brutal Los Angeles -- a harsh existence with the outpost in the sky a constant reminder of what you can't have, won't have in your miserable lifetime.

A bulked-up and tattoed Matt Damon is Max, an ex-con who works at a factory where he's exposed to a lethal dose of radiation. If he can get to Elysium, he can be cured, for every home is outfitted with a sort of MRI-tanning bed where all diseases and infirmities are cured. He makes a deal with the devil -- carry out a cyber-crime, and he'll get a golden ticket.

Subjecting his body to a torturous procedure that turns him into a database dump, Max is racing against the clock to save the world. Or at least provide poor Latinos with medical care. All the while he looks like a cross between a low-rent "Robo-Cop" and "The Road Warrior."


Jodie Foster gives the worst performance of her career as an icy government official. Her defense secretary speaks in an accent that one can't figure out. Her villain is one-note and evil from the get-go, without any nuances to fascinate.

Matt Damon gives a valiant effort in a cumbersome outfit that appears severely uncomfortable throughout, even as he's in shootouts with the big bad guy (Sharlto Copley, hero in "District 9"). Copley's psychopathic enforcer is a mean fighting machine whose scenes are so vicious they become hard to watch.

Damon's charming persona in many movie roles doesn't get to peak out of the nihilistic angst, but when there are flashes of it, you want more. He just seems ill-suited for the role, but you root for him.

What Works

The director keeps the pacing on target. While this might have more brain matter than many of the futuristic plots recently, the characters and their plot lines are derivative.

What Doesn't Work

The first third of the movie sets up the story just to dissolve into a violent, confusing mess. The computer storyline is laborious, and difficult to follow. Jodie's Hillary Clinton-like appearance will raise some eyebrows, and she doesn't interact with Damon. The film is unapologetically gruesome, and some scenes are hard to watch. This is not as original as "District 9," and Blomkamp uses some of the same tricks in his arsenal.

Somewhere in here is a good movie, but it just wasn't constructed to draw us in as much as it should have.

2 stars out of 4

Director: Neill Blomkamp

Starring: Matt Damon, Jodie Foster, Sharlto Copley, Anita Braga, Diego Luna

Length: 1:49

Rated: Rated R for strong bloody violence and language throughout

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