Falls short of its goals.
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The classic novel premise has been updated to reflect our current time, but throw just a bit further down the rabbit hole so as to keep our brains busy. Yes, it’s silly to think of a modern world where all forms of art (not just books) are put to the flame, but it’s not hard to imagine one where an overstimulated I-want-it-all-right-now generation could go through a second Civil War spurred by an abundance of opinions that are absolute in nature. Screens are everywhere and written language is downgraded into its absolute lowest form: emojis. There is a lot about this film that makes sense, but it can never quite seem to put all of its pieces together long enough to make something memorable. To say that it bears striking resemblance to an episode or two of Black Mirror would be quite accurate; you can also say (as I already have once today) that it’s pretty much exactly Equilibrium without the action set pieces. Those comparisons wouldn’t be inherently bad if this particular movie could distinguish itself as something that needs to be seen and needs to be talked about. Something that spurs mass discussion of grand ideas.
The most glaring issue, I’d wager, is the running time. At 100 minutes, there is simply no time to address what the film’s undercurrent seems to be steering us toward. Something like this should have been produced as a miniseries, where it could really draw emotion and meaning out of its characters and surrounding environment. Instead, we get some bits clunky, poorly-written dialogue, a 1984-inspired three line propaganda mantra that doesn’t seem relevant to the story in any way, and an antagonist that is begging to be explored on a much deeper level than the script allows.
By no means does that script get everything wrong (its heart is in the right place), but there is simply not enough detail given to the items most begging for more. I certainly enjoy the overall concept that the internet (as opposed to TV in the novel written so long ago) is the main villain and that our mutated human nature brought this world upon ourselves. But just when I see the film showing signs of going in a good direction with the idea of the lying, self-serving, hypocritical nature of power, we hit a dead end. Our antagonist shows signs of the free thought he wants to suppress, and how confusing it can be to wade into such murky waters, but we never get to really go into the deep end. Would those ideas be new ones? Of course not. But Michael Shannon could have made a powerful statement, if given proper material.
Ultimately, while this is not what I had hoped for, it’s far from being bad. But it could have been much, much more as a miniseries, and that is what will stick with me, moreso than the themes the film attempted to explore.