Gemini Man ★★★

There is very little to say about this as a piece of cinema; it's a generic action story, literally no deeper than the synopsis, with a little added sensitivity, because Ang Lee is a good, soft boy.

However, as a tech demo, a feat of engineering, or as Scorsese would say, as a theme park ride it's exciting and fun, so much so that I basically cackled through the climax. Specifically I would say that this is the part of the theme park experience that is the Special Effects or Stunt Show, a shallow recreation of blockbuster entertainment during which you never once suspend your disbelief, but which is scintillating nonetheless, maybe more so because even though it's a lame, fake explosion effect, it's one that happens right in front of you.

With the High Frame Rate 4k 3D Lee replicates that feeling by 'removing the window'. Watching the film feels like looking into a stage or at least out from the stadium seating at said Stunt show, albeit one where a giant disembodied Will Smith head is performing a monologue or jumping away from the sparkiest explosions this side of the eighties. There are some moments where the smoothness makes the movie resemble an aged cutscene from a video game, but plenty of others where that same artificiality makes the experience feel totally tactile. It's a contradictory statement, but one that makes sense when you see it in action.

Focus in this film isn't a gradient, it's not a smooth distinction, instead it is made qualitative, breaking the shots into distinct layers that look almost like papercraft. It makes the foreground feel less like a performance place and more like personal space, so when a waiters arm or the tag from an umbrella bursts into it you feel invaded, but when a character looks out from it the experience feels as epic as it does intimate. There are a lot of times when the face looking out is totally CGI, and in this hyper detailed format this shouldn't work, but since everyone looks strange young Smith doesn't stand out.

In this way the HFR is a weirdly leveling addition; the special effects look realer and the stunts look more fantastical so both work well in tandem. Sadly Lee doesn't have too much ambition with the visuals outside of the tech, there are a few thrilling oners where the performance vibe shines through brightest and a couple of nicely captured exteriors, but it otherwise looks quite bland.

This may be a virtue though, one tied to the blandness of the script. Billy Lynn was bold and strange as a script, tacking this technical element on only exacerbated issues that preexisted it, but here the film is boring enough that you can lose yourself in looking at the screen, in studying the depths of field and the details of faces without worrying that you will miss something in the story. This will still perturb many, but by the end of the film I was in on the idea of HFR in the right hands; seeing every shard of glass crackle underfoot and the full dimensions of the formations formed by birds as they take off could be incredible if put to use in the right film.