DENNIS SCHWARTZ Movie Reviews

ELYSIUM (director/writer: Neill Blomkamp; cinematographer: Trent Opaloch; editors: Julian Clarke/Lee Smith; music: Ryan Amon; cast: Matt Damon (Max), Jodie Foster (Delacourt), Sharlto Copley (Kruger), Alice Braga (Frey), Diego Luna (Julio), Wagner Moura (Spider), William Fichtner (John Carlyle),  Faran Tahir (Patel), Mike Mitchell (Foreman), Emma Tremblay (Matilda), Yolanda Abbud L. (Nun); Runtime: 97; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Bill Block/Neill Blomkamp/Simon Kinberg; TriStar Pictures; 2013)

"Visionary sci-fi film, a highly political one, about the class divide."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The South African Neill Blomkamp ("District 9") is the 33-year-old writer and director of this big-budget futuristic visionary sci-fi film, a highly political one, about the class divide. It's set in the year 2154 and tells of the wealthy living a privileged life on the restricted, immaculately clean and orderly man-made space station called Elysium (parts of Vancouver fill in for Elysium), where they have the technology for miracle cures for all diseases and injuries. It's only a 19-minute shuttle ride away, but access is not permitted because of hard-line immigration laws and the steep ticket price for the ride there. Meanwhile the masses live in a polluted environment, neighborhoods that look blighted like junkyards, in chaos, subject to mistreatment by bullying robo-cops and in impoverished circumstances in the featured overcrowded Earth city of Los Angeles (shot in Mexico City), where only a few are able to find work.

Max (Matt Damon), a paroled car thief, is one of the lucky ones who has a factory job at the Armadyne corporation, but work conditions are horrible and he's at the mercy of his rigid uncaring bosses to do what they say or get fired. Ever since he was a kid Max has dreamed of a better life by getting a ticket to Elysium, but has come to accept his fate and now just wishes to survive with the little dignity he has been spared to live out his life as an ordinary working-class person.The oily despotic corporate head is John Carlyle (William Fichtner), who invented Elysium and the technology it currently needs to operate.

When Max receives a toxic dose of radiation that leaves him with only a few days to live, during a workplace accident, he decides to no longer be passive about his slavery. Max seeks out help from the nurse Frey (Alice Braga), someone he had a crush on when they were children in a Catholic orphanage but has not seen for ages. Frey, like Max, seeks a ticket to Elysium. Frey's young daughter is suffering from terminal leukemia and can be cured only at the advanced med stations on Elysium.

Elysium’s combative anti-immigration defense secretary, Delacourt (Jodi Foster), uses the psychopathic Kruger (Sharlto Copley) as a rogue sleeper agent to do the unofficial dirty work of making sure Elysium is kept pristine from illegals, even if by illegal means. Though Delacourt is in conflict with the arrogant puppet president Patel (Faran Tahir) and ruled by his presidency, he proves to be no match for the cunning lady monster who rules with an iron hand despite his interference. To finally get Patel off her back, after he fires her main operative Kruger, Delacourt conspires with the amoral and greedy Carlyle to rewrite the Elysium program and thereby dump Patel from holding the position legally, while in trade for the coup the CEO receives the exclusive government contracts for the next 200 years.

To get to paradise, Max and his street friend Julio (Diego Luna) sign on with the people's revolutionary leader Spider (Wagner Moura, Brazilian actor) and, for the promise of a ticket to Elysium, take part in the botched kidnapping of Carlyle. While the insurgents are fighting with the droids protecting the boss (the same droids Max helps weld in his factory gig), Carlyle is killed. Though unable to keep the sleaze CEO alive, nevertheless all the classified data is downloaded from Carlyle’s brain into Max's. This data tells of the coup and makes Delacourt vulnerable to treason charges. Thereby the unfeeling Delacourt illegally rehires Kruger to bring back Max's brain unharmed to get the program back in her hands, as Max has to go on the run from the ruthless mercenary contract hit man and has no choice but try to be a super-hero.

Things in the third act turn into the more familiar standard issue action hero story, as the 'everyman' Max must fight the villains, save the kidnapped Frey and her daughter, and then save the world James Bond style.

It disappoints if you compare it with Blomkamp's more raw and insightful debut film, but the storytelling is first-rate, the characters are juicy, the acting is fine and it has an appealing populist agenda in its social commentary. What takes away some of the pic's luster, is that it's too slick and overloads on action. By the end, it turns off the visionary taps to become too much like your typical brain-dead blockbuster action-picture as it fades out as just another passable sci-fi flick that could have been a contender if allowed to fight with no holds barred.

REVIEWED ON 8/9/2013       GRADE: B

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"

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