Film Review: ‘Reminiscence’: First-Time Filmmaker Lisa Joy’s Sci-Fi Noir Pot-Boiler

By Michael Clark
Michael Clark
Michael Clark
Originally from Washington, D.C., Michael Clark has written for over 30 local and national film industry media outlets and is ranked in the top 10 of the Atlanta media marketplace. He co-founded the Atlanta Film Critics Circle in 2017 and is a regular contributor to the Shannon Burke Show on FloridaManRadio.com. Since 1995, Mr. Clark has written over 4,000 movie reviews and film-related articles.
August 25, 2021 Updated: August 25, 2021

PG-13 | 1h 56min | Action, Drama, Thriller, Sci-Fi | 20 August 2021

Inspired by German Expressionism in the late 1940s, film noir flourished and then mutated into other mystery genres: “neo-noir,” “sci-fi noir,” and, most recently, “tech-noir.” With few exceptions, all of these movies featured a world-weary leading man (often private a detective or cop) who falls for or is duped by a sultry and calculating femme fatale leading lady. In her debut feature “Reminiscence,” filmmaker Lisa Joy unabashedly embraces virtually every past noir calling card.

The majority of the critical community has responded to the film with confusion and indifference. Throughout movie history, many films we now consider “classics” were initially met with disdain, indifference and/or befuddlement (think virtually every Stanley Kubrick effort) and “Reminiscence” certainly fits that mold. This is a title which absolutely begs to be viewed not twice, but multiple times and I, for one, can’t wait to watch it repeatedly.

Another slam against this film is that it is derivative, pinching bits and pieces from other similarly-themed past productions and that is entirely true. At various points you’ll see elements of (among others) “Vertigo,” “Blade Runner,” “Altered States,” “Brainstorm,” “Strange Days,” “The Cell,” “Minority Report,” “Source Code,” and “Inception.”

Being “inspired by” or “borrowing” from older movies (or music, or paintings, or other artistic mediums) is nothing new, nor is it lazy or uninspired. One look at a list of Shakespeare’s plays adapted into movies supports this argument. There is indeed nothing new under the sun.

Miami Now Looks More Like Venice

Taking place in the near future after an unspecified war and in the wake of a global warming (or, climate change, if you wish) event, “Reminiscence” is set in Miami, which now more resembles Venice. With daytime heat so oppressive, most residents are nocturnal, and the lion’s share of the story takes place at night. This allows Joy and cinematographer Paul Cameron (“Collateral,” “Man on Fire”) the ideal opportunity to play with light, unorthodox camera angles, and a seemingly unlimited color palate. Even though the movie is also now available on HBO Max, it is highly recommended to watch it in a theater on the biggest screen you can find.

A veteran of the recent war, Nick Bannister now (barely) makes ends meet operating a service which allows clients to relive past memories via 3D holograms. Whether it is playing with a deceased pet, intimate romantic interludes or something as mundane as finding lost keys, Nick can probably take care of it. Nick also takes freelance gigs with law enforcement, where he plugs into the minds of criminals (against their will) to revive dead-end leads or identify more valuable bosses or kingpins further up on the food chain.

Reminiscence
Rebecca Ferguson as a holographic image of Mae and Hugh Jackman as Nick Bannister. (Ben Rothstein/2021 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.)

On the cusp of burnout, Nick gets a much-needed professional and emotional jolt with the arrival of Mae (Rebecca Ferguson, the three most recent installments of “Mission: Impossible”), a seductive chanteuse suggesting a hybrid of Rita Hayworth, Diana Krall, and Jessica Rabbit.

Nick is instantly smitten and intrigued which causes his employee (and former soldier) Watts (Thandiwe Newton) to start a slow burn. Unable to mask her alcoholism, Watts is also unsuccessful in hiding her romantic longings for her boss.

Quickly embroiled in a scorching romantic affair with Mae, Nick finds out more about her past than he’d like while helping the police on a murder case. Much to Watts’s mounting chagrin, Nick starts going down multiple virtual rabbit holes trying to find Mae who has literally vanished into thin air.

Reminiscence
Rebecca Ferguson as Mae and Hugh Jackman. (Ben Rothstein/2021 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.)

Created by TV’s ‘Westworld’ Team

With its non-linear narrative and “don’t-blink-or-you’ll-miss-something” pacing, “Reminiscence” is not something for the casual viewer or those who like having their story spoon-fed to them.

In addition to “Inception,” the film also shares a structure similar to that of “Interstellar” and “Tenet,” three movies directed by Christopher Nolan who wrote or co-wrote six of his 11 films with his younger brother Jonathan. Not surprisingly, Jonathan is one of four co-producers here and Joy’s husband. Together the couple also co-created, produce, direct and write the TV series “Westworld” (which also stars Newton).

Upon first view, the weakest link in “Reminiscence” is the middle act where the story’s groundwork finishes and the plot threads begin to coalesce. Contrary to frequent critical comments, the narration provided by Jackman’s character is not excessive, but in hindsight (like Harrison Ford’s in “Blade Runner”), the film might have worked better without any narration.

It would be interesting to know if the finished cut was what Joy had originally intended; meaning, was it longer, more graphic, and free of narration or did it have a less-than-upbeat ending? Given the content of “Westworld” all of these possibilities are entirely plausible.

“Blade Runner” director Ridley Scott only included narration in the initial theatrical version at the insistence of Warner Bros., the same studio that is distributing “Reminiscence.” Perhaps the answers to those questions and others will be addressed in the home video edition of the film, which will hopefully include commentary, deleted scenes and maybe even an “R” rated director’s cut.

Few first-time feature filmmakers could match Joy’s efforts here; she can hold her head high. This movie will live long past its theatrical run and before all’s said and done, it will likely change the minds of many of its current detractors.

‘Reminiscence’
Director: Lisa Joy
Stars: Hugh Jackman, Rebecca Ferguson, Thandiwe Newton, Cliff Curtis, Daniel Wu
Running Time: One hour, 56 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Release Date: Aug. 20, 2021
Rating: 4 out of 5

Originally from Washington, D.C., Michael Clark has written for over 30 local and national film industry media outlets and is based in the Atlanta Top 10 media marketplace. He co-founded the Atlanta Film Critics Circle in 2017 and is a regular contributor to the Shannon Burke Show on floridamanradio.com. Since 1995, Mr. Clark has written over 4,000 movie reviews and film-related articles.

Michael Clark
Michael Clark
Originally from Washington, D.C., Michael Clark has written for over 30 local and national film industry media outlets and is ranked in the top 10 of the Atlanta media marketplace. He co-founded the Atlanta Film Critics Circle in 2017 and is a regular contributor to the Shannon Burke Show on FloridaManRadio.com. Since 1995, Mr. Clark has written over 4,000 movie reviews and film-related articles.