Mankind’s eternal search for the fountain of youth has seen Hollywood explore more than one scenario where immortality is a reality, always at some morally reprehensible dystopic expense. Films such as Elysium,The Island, Transcendence or more recently Chappie have approached the idea from different angles with great success. Whether director Tarsem Singh’s (The Fall, Immortals, The Cell) latest sci-fi thriller Self/Less meets the same standards is questionable at best, even with the bucketloads of potential it possesses.
Damian Hale (Ben Kingsley) is a wealthy property tycoon, situated in NYC where he’s lived a cutthroat sort of existence to get to the top, the kind that makes a lot of enemies. What opponents he may have won’t get to him before his terminal cancer does and in an attempt to save himself he engages in a process called ‘shedding’ with the assistance of mysterious creator Professor Albright (Matthew Goode). The procedure successfully injects his consciousness into a healthier youthful vessel and he’s stamped with a new identity Eward ‘Mark’ Hale (Ryan Reynolds). He’s whisked away to enjoy a new life in New Orleans, which goes swimmingly, until he starts questioning the ‘hallucinatory side effects’ that occur when he doesn’t take his anti-rejection meds.
The sole existence of Ben Kingsley in this film makes it worth seeing, even if his appearance is too brief. He nails Damian Hale, an elegant yet cold calculating man surrounded by a ridiculous decadent sort of gaudiness only someone who is trying to disguise his own insecurities could accumulate. Victor Garber who plays his protégé Martin does an excellent job of providing a complimentary partnership, as well as getting across whatever internal conflicts he has once the skeletons in his closet are revealed. His role whilst scant ends up being quite valuable and key to the plot.
This type of film relies heavily on lead characters being able to embody and emulate the traits of another person. For the audience to look at someone completely physically different and have them believe they are possessed with the soul of someone else is no mean feat and here is where Matthew Goode shone as Professor Albright. His transition from rough irish larrikin in Leap Year to this debonair, graceful man, consumed by his beliefs is remarkable and only solidifies his skill in truly absorbing a role. He also pulls out some corker one liners that generate unexpected laughs.
Ryan Reynolds who plays the younger version of Kingsley’s character sadly falls flat in this film, it feels like he’s just playing himself which whilst bringing some much needed comic relief, makes his impersonation of Damian Hale utterly unconvincing. Don’t take this as a hate on Reynolds, he’s brilliant with other film genres, this just doesn’t suit. As per his role in The Captive the man is capable of serious drama but once again needs to stay away from the distressed paternal roles, as it never seems quite believable. His wet eyed puppy dog look whilst endearing is unable to translate the cunning intelligence and ruthlessness behind Hale.
One of the major highlights to this movie is how adept it is in capturing the heartbeat of New Orleans, the beauty of its architecture, the vibrancy of its people, the history and quiet splendour of the place. It’s not difficult to imagine being there and contemplate going home and buying an air ticket, from one point of grandeur to the next, a lot of thought has been put into set decoration and location.
The plot also holds so much promise, the idea behind shedding is simple but effective and there are some elements that are reiterated for the purpose of them re-appearing later on. But any potential twists could be seen miles ahead of execution, which just took all the fun out of it. Most audience members would have figured how this is going to play out about halfway through the film. Hale’s relationship with his estranged daughter was bit of a predictable sub-plot in the storyline which didn’t reach the depths it could’ve, it was mean to draw a similarity between young and old Hale’s pasts but between the two actors and the script came off like a casually tossed in component.
The one thing Tarsem Singh does deserve full credit for are the action scenes, especially the bathroom brawl between Reynolds and his antagonists. Everything is uncannily Quentin in that interactions are swift, savage and instantly fatal. There’s a blur of movement and some gory remains on the floor at each end that will easily set off cries of excitement and rapid blinking from viewers.
Self/Less isn’t hawking a new concept by any means and whilst a few big casting choices have been drawn in to execute the plot it doesn’t quite get there, which is a shame because it has the foundations of a very poignant and clever film.
Review Score: TWO AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Run Time: 117 minutes
Self/Less will screen in Australian cinemas nationwide July 23rd through Roadshow Films