Freelance writer. Melbourne based cinephile. Fond of food.
Published August 16th 2013
Asylum seekers in the 22nd century
Director: Neill Blomkamp (District 9) Cast: Matt Damon, Jodie Foster, Diego Luna, Sharlto Copley
Is this the end of the end-of-the-world movies? So far this year we've had World War Z, This is the End, World's End, After Earth and Pacific Rim. It's enough to give you apocalyptic fatigue. At least with South African director Neill Blomkamp we should expect something with a little more substance, right? After all, his District 9 aliens flick was a biting asylum seeker allegory.
Well, half right. Thematically, Blomkamp doesn't stray too far from his debut feature, but this time those seeking asylum are humans. It's the middle of the 22nd century and a ravaged Earth is barely habitable. Meanwhile, floating above, like a scene from 2001: A Space Odyssey is the idyllic satellite world of Elysium, occupied by the very wealthy who vigilantly protect their borders from the unlucky ones struggling for survival on Earth.
Part of what made District 9 so unique was it's scabrous wit and clever social commentary. While it's commendable that Blomkamp hasn't abandoned his social conscience, there is less force behind it this time because those in power on Elysium are so broadly drawn.
Coming off worst of all is Jodie Foster, whose permanently clenched jaw and strangulated vowels are quite disconcerting. Eerily, she looks a lot like Julia Gillard, although the accent is a strange, clipped Gillian Anderson variation. Matt Damon fares better, although it's hard to fully believe he's the bad-ass renegade he's portraying. His casting also signifies a concession to finding the broadest audience possible. Given the focus is on an hispanic community, therefore drawing comparisons to Mexicans trying to cross the border to the States, having an Anglo Saxon actor represent them is a purely commercial choice.
Sharlto Copley, who stole the show in District 9, is back, but will likely polarise audiences with his over the top villain turn. Other players are there to fill in default-setting characters, although Alice Braga registers strongly as Damon's friend from childhood.
When the story is Earth-bound, literally, the set design and art direction is similar to that of District 9, with it's dusty, bleached exteriors and a preference for rough-hewn visuals over glossy CGI. The satellite is another thing altogether, a revolving paradise of parks, lakes and beautiful people in beautiful houses.
The film itself is never short on action and the dramatic stakes are always ramped up to maximum level. Among all the chaos and violence though, some of the best moments are when there's absolute quiet.
Ultimately Elysium works just fine as popcorn entertainment, although one can't help thinking that the Hollywood machine has again diluted a great independent voice.
Chuckles at the Julia Gillard comment, I thought the same thing! Nice review. I wasn't much of a fan of the film. It was too slow and the end of Delacourt was just too uncharacteristic for there to have been any satisfaction in it.