Dir: Omar Naim. Italy. 2004. 104 mins.
The best thing about this sci-fi thriller starring Robin Williams is its premise. The idea that advance in neurotechnology will one day allow us to video our whole lives from somewhere inside our brains throws up all kinds of issues about privacy, about the world being a stage, about how we edit and censor our own memories and about how one day someone else may do this job for us. But first-time writer-director Omar Naim has failed to translate this sizzling premise into an entirely satisfying film. The script heads off in too many different directions, and Williams' performance as the 'cutter' who edits people's life-videos after their death for a memorial-service presentation is stiff and stilted, with little of the creepy fascination of his other recent dark roles in One Hour Photo and Insomnia. Still, with his name on the posters and the reasonable auxiliary business that this title can expect to generate, Lion's Gate should claw their money back over the long term.
The film opens with video footage of the moments just after a baby's birth, seen from the baby's own point of view. Like millions of other people (around one in 20 of the population, we later learn, most of them from the moneyed classes), the baby has had a 'Zoe chip' implanted into its brain which will record his whole life in slightly grainy DV. These recordings are accessed only after the person's death by the cutter whose job it is to create the 90-minute 'Rememory' video that is shown at the Zoe-carrier's funeral. Williams plays Alan Hackman, one of the most respected cutters in the business who, like a human stain remover, specialises in editing the lives of the blackest characters so that they turn out snow white. As he says to the wife of Charles Bannister, the child-abusing Zoe Tech executive whose Rememory is his latest challenge, his job is to 'respect the living', not the dead.
Hackman sees himself as a 'sin-eater', a shamanistic confessor who brings a kind of post-mortem absolution. We are encouraged to see him as a damaged character, a priest corrupted by the secrets of the confessional; but the expression of noble melancholy and unspoken pain that Williams adopts throughout is so uninflected that it feels as if he is struggling to find a way into the character. And although Mira Sorvino does a decent job as Hackman's love interest Delila, there is no chemistry in the pairing, and she never quite wins the battle against a script that give the relationship so little credibility.
The story takes a number of rococo twists and turns. There is an undercurrent of protest against Zoe implants, conveyed in some hammily staged demonstration scenes; Jim Caviezel plays Fletcher, a former cutter who is now a leader of the anti-implant movement, and is desperate to get his hands on the Bannister footage so that he can use it to discredit Zoe Tech. In another subplot, Hackman discovers a figure from his past on the Bannister footage, a figure whose very existence promises to release him from a burden of guilt that he has been carrying since early childhood. If this all sounds a little convoluted, it is: there is simply too much going on, and not enough time to develop any of it into the tight, edgy, thought-provoking mindgame that this movie could have become.
There are compensations, though: particularly the double act of veteran cinematographer Tak Fujimoto and production designer James Chinlund, who go against the sci-fi cliches to create a nostalgic view of the future as the present seen through autumn-tinted spectacles. Best of all is the editing studio, a Victorian minimalist take on an undertaker's parlour, where Hackman cuts footage on a dark wood 'guillotine' (editing bay); even his laptop is made of polished mahogany. Also enjoyable is the second-unit DV camerawork in the Zoe chip life sequences that we view on the guillotine monitor, particularly a Strange Days-like dream sequence which Hackman assembles out of footage from bearers with defective Zoe chips that go on recording the mind's activity even when the body is asleep.
Production co: Lions Gate Films
International sales: Lions Gate Films
Producer: Nick Wechsler
Screenplay: Omar Naim
Cinematography: Tak Fujimoto
Production design: James Chinlund
Editor: Dede Allen, Robert Brakey
Music: Brian Tyler
Main cast: Robin Williams, Mira Sorvino, Jim Caviezel, Mimi Kuzyk, Thom Bishops