Moon (2009) 4.53/5 (10)


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Rating: The Good – 95.8
Genre: Science Fiction
Duration: 97 mins
Director: Duncan Jones
Stars: Sam Rockwell, Kevin Spacey

Moon is that rare breed of film that seamlessly weaves existential introspection with thrilling story-telling resulting in the most satisfying and touching of film going experiences. It is a tour de force of technical achievement from the set design to the acting to the score to the directing. The film tells the fascinating story of Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell) who encounters a duplicate of himself when coming to the end of a three year stint as the sole crew member on a moon base. This encounter sets the scene for some mind-bending self-reflection and a heartfelt bonding between the two men as they realise that their lives are not what they thought they were and, what lives they do have, are in danger.

In telling this story, first time writer director Duncan Jones constantly plays with the audience’s expectations by exploiting their knowledge of film convention in general and science fiction convention in particular so that the narrative is kept fresh and unpredictable and the audience kept on their toes. Nathan Parker’s script is tight and economical with not a word of dialogue out of place or wasted. Given the film only stars one actor and that loneliness is an important theme, there are extended periods where no words are spoken. In such circumstances score can become critical and the audience will not be disappointed as Clint Mansell’s unforgettable music carries you throughout the film colouring every scene with a pervading sense of mystery. Indeed, his score is so subtly haunting that you continue to ‘hear’ it even when it’s not there.

Like all great science fiction films, Moon looks great. The production design is truly excellent with more than a few nods to 2001: A Space Odyssey, while the visual effects are simple but immaculate. The magnificent moonscapes against which the exterior action takes place are nothing short of sumptuous. Moon is a testament to the idea that the clever and restrained use of visual effects that is necessitated by an independent budget can produce a quality far beyond that of even the most expensive blockbusters. Like 2001 and Blade Runner before it, Moon uses its look and visual effects not to impress the audience in a vacuous attempt to show off but as a subtext for the story. This only heightens the visual experience and gives the film’s look a life of its own.

At the centre of this film is Sam Rockwell’s powerhouse performance which is possibly the most impressive piece of acting since Pacino’s portrayal of Michael Corleone. As with that latter performance, Rockwell takes on the mammoth task of portraying two different versions of the same character and he succeeds so wonderfully that at times you feel you could be looking at two different actors. Of course the real trick was in playing the character differently enough to account for the personality changes but similarly enough to reinforce the point that they’re the same person. And it is in pulling off this trick that Rockwell lays the groundwork for some of the most unique and profoundly touching acting in modern film history as the two Sam Bell’s grow past their initial mutual suspicion and resentment to the point where they become bound by genuine compassion and concern for each other. This is the punctuating performance in this maverick actor’s career and one that confirms him as the standout actor of his generation.

In an intriguing link to 2001: A Space Odyssey and perhaps even the universe it was set in, Sam Bell has an AI companion called Gerty who amonsgt other things, provides a well considered twist on the HAL archetype. This helping machine is superbly brought to life through a combination of Kevin Spacey’s perfectly measured vocal performance and an incredibly innovative and endearing conception of robot-human interface where Spacey’s monotone voice becomes emotionally embellished through the use of emoticons. Though the existential relationship between the two Sams is the heart and soul of this film, the three-way interaction between Rockwell, Spacey’s voice, and the physical robot is at times equally touching and this is never better realised than in the moment when Gerty breaks protocol.

Ultimately it is the poignancy of Moon which makes it so deeply brilliant and that poignancy is drawn from the story through the intuitive combination of Rockwell’s searing performance and Jones’ profound and visionary direction. In one standout scene, this perfect harmony between the two and their respective crafts is realised as Bell sits in his rover talking to his daughter who is back on Earth. As Bell begins to emotionally crumble before our eyes Jones cuts to an exterior shot, which slowly pans behind the rover and the more distant blue sphere of the earth. This is perhaps one of the most beautiful and haunting scenes in the history of cinema.

Duncan Jones’ Moon is the best debut in a very long time, maybe even since Welles himself. It is the best science fiction film since Blade Runner maybe even since 2001: A Space Odyssey. The more often you see it, the better it gets. In fact, Moon might just be one of the best films ever made.

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