Daniel Metzger’s review published on Letterboxd:
Another one of those flicks I’ve been meaning to watch for the longest time. I always figured I would dig this because I love thoughtful sci-fi and I love me some Ethan Hawke. Also a friend of mine always says this is favorite film period. But sadly, I just wasn’t that into this movie. Jude Law is great in it, but otherwise it was just...fine. It’s not a bad movie or anything but I was pretty underwhelmed given it’s reputation.
When it started off I was impressed by the lack of exposition. It was just visual storytelling and it doesn’t really tell you what’s going on....and then there’s literally 30 minutes of narration that spells out the entire movie. Literally, it lays out everything about this world, the character’s whole life story, all his hopes and dreams, everything he’s done so far leading up to where the movie started. Suffice it to say I was less impressed with the film’s screenplay at that point. I don’t know if all that narration was a studio-mandated inclusion because they didn’t think the audience would be able to follow the plot, (like what happened with Blade Runner and Dark City), but I just get the feeling they didn’t know how else to explain everything.
And the other issue with that is I just don’t think the movie’s central concept is as interesting or compelling as it thinks it is. Ethan Hawke explains it all to us, but we don’t really get a sense of what the world is like for people like him, (that being people with inferior genes who are marginalized in the future). The movie doesn’t do much in the way of showing. Hence we don’t really feel much of what the movie is telling us.
And that brings me to my biggest problem with the movie: I just didn’t care. I didn’t feel anything for Ethan Hawke’s character. He’s obviously supposed to be sympathetic, what with how society sees no use for him and he’s fighting to realize his dream anyway, but I just could not care about this guy. It could partly be the fault of Hawke himself, because he never successfully shows any vulnerability in this film. So I don’t know what about him is supposed to make me root for him. The only character I did care about was Jude Law’s character, who was incredibly sympathetic and endearing, and I almost feel like the movie might have been stronger if the roles were reversed and Jude Law was the guy we were rooting for and Hawke was the guy helping him out. Anyways there’s also a romance in this involving Uma Thurman’s character and it’s whatever.
But I want to end with giving the shoutout of shoutouts to Xander Berkeley, one of my favorite “that guy” actors. That guy managed to appear in like every major movie of the 90s for like a minute, from T2 to Heat to The Rock to Air Force One (which was the same year as this film). He’s also great in shows like Nikita and 24. Anyways he single-handedly makes the ending of this movie work and makes it easily the best scene in the film. He just has such great subtlety and ultimately incredible warmth in this and I think his little moment with Hawke at the end is the reason people love this movie and why it means so much to them. Also comparing this performance to Air Force One in particular is amazing because he’s so evil in that, but in both cases he’s hiding what he really is so that’s pretty interesting. Anyways hats off to Xander. He basically raises this whole movie a grade right at the end.