DENNIS SCHWARTZ Movie Reviews

THE CONGRESS (director/writer: Ari Folman; screenwriter: based on “The Futurological Congress” by Stanislaw Lem; cinematographer: Michal Englert; editor: Nili Feller; music: Max Richter; cast: Robin Wright (Robin Wright), Harvey Keitel (Al), Jon Hamm (Dylan Truliner), Kodi Smit-McPhee (Aaron Wright), Danny Huston (Jeff Green), Sami Gayle (Sarah Wright), Michael Stahl-David (Steve), Paul Giamatti (Dr. Baker); Runtime: 117; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Reinhard Brundig/Ari Folman/Robin Wright; Drafthouse; 2013-Israel/France/Belgium/Germany/Poland/Luxembourg-in English)

"Weird sci-fi film that mixes together animation with live action."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Israeli director Ari Folman ("Waltz With Bashir"/"Made in Israel"/"Saint Clara") writes and directs this weird sci-fi film that mixes together animation with live action. It's
based on the 1971 novel  “The Futurological Congress” by the Polish sci-fi author Stanislaw Lem.

Robin Wright plays a fictionalized version of herself. She's a 44-year-old actress who hasn't had a hit film in over 15 years. She first came to Hollywood from her native Texas and at 24 wowed the public playing Buttercup in the Princess Bride. Presently she's a single-mom homebody devoted to caring for her oldest daughter (Sami Gayle) and her ailing ten-year-old son Aaron (Kodi Smit-McPhee), while dwelling in a remodeled hangar located next to a busy airport. With no movie offers in the horizon, her longtime agent Al (Harvey Keitel) presents her with an unusual offer from the malevolent Miramount Studio boss Jeff Green (Danny Huston). They want to capture the actress at age 34, and create a virtual version of her that never changes. Thereby she can never act again and the studio can use her digital version in anyway it sees fit. Needing the dough for her son's medical treatment, Robin agrees to get a spherical full-body scan. It's a Faustian bargain with the Devil, to sell one's soul for worldly gain. The lifetime contract really goes for twenty years, and after that time she's free to act again.

The 64-year-old Robin, now a superstar, due to her popular role as Agent Robin in mindless action films, accepts an invite to attend the Futurist Congress, located in a 100-story hotel, that's sponsored by her studio. The catch is that the event takes place in a Restricted Animated Zone and she's forced, like everyone else in attendance, to take a drug that turns her into an animated character.

Robin has the honor to introduce to the Congress the studio's new product line--a drug that can turn people into a substance and they still keep their human traits. It can be taken as a milk shake. In other words, the movie business gives way to the more profitable big pharmacy business. But Robin's speech about the misuse of medical technology upsets the studio bosses, and activists at the Congress stage a revolt. When violence erupts Robin flees the event with the Miramount bosses, but their helicopter crashes and only she survives. The doctors decide to keep the hurting Robin alive by freezing her body in suspension so that it could be awakened in a few years when medicine will have the technology to heal her. When she's awakened, she finds herself living a Utopian lie, where due to drugs people can be whoever they want to be. Robin chooses to make every effort to reconnect with her grown son and to shun this false reality.

The further the film goes on with its theme of ripping the direction of Hollywood commercial films and its political allegory of the pharmaceutically duped population too doped up to see the horrors of its real world, the more the film becomes less thrilling. I can appreciate its ambitions to point out that our pop-culture is leading us astray and its modest cartoonish animations are a fun watch, but there's too much here that is clumsily executed and there's not enough insight as to what's wrong in society. Overall, it's only more bewildering than credible. 

REVIEWED ON 12/5/2014       GRADE: B-

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"

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