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Neill Blomkamp’s “Elysium” Delivers Solidly Crafted Entertainment

August 12, 2013

By John Corrado

Elysium PosterExactly four years ago, Neill Blomkamp literally exploded onto the filmmaking scene with the phenomenal District 9, a compelling science fiction allegory for apartheid in South Africa.  The film was an instant classic, a breakout hit that went on to receive an Oscar nomination for Best Picture.

This was a stunning debut from an exciting young talent, and his sophomore effort opened over the weekend.  Placing atop the box office with $30.4 million, Elysium is another entertaining piece of contemporary science fiction, heightened by metaphors of classism and poverty.

Turning to a life of crime after spending his childhood in an orphanage, Max (Matt Damon) has always dreamed of going to Elysium, the manmade refuge that floats in the sky above our overpopulated and polluted planet.  As people became careless throughout the 21st century, the year is now 2154 and those with money have all fled the planet for a better life up in space, leaving the poor and underprivileged struggling to make ends meet on Earth.  Max works at a sleazy factory run by John Carlyle (William Fichtner), helping to manufacture the robotic officers that patrol the streets with no mercy.

But then Max suffers a workplace accident and is exposed to dangerous levels of radiation, and has five days to live before his body will give out.  The secret to his survival lies on Elysium, and the one who can help get him there is Spider (Wagner Moura), who runs an underground ring of sending illegal flights up to space.  Max is determined to get help for himself and his partner in crime Julio (Diego Luna), as well as his childhood friend Frey (Alice Braga) and her young daughter Matilda (Emma Tremblay), who is dying of leukaemia.  But the coldhearted Delacourt (Jodie Foster) will stop at nothing to prevent the people of Earth from entering her manmade utopia, even unleashing the ruthless Kruger (Sharlto Copley) to go after them.

There isn’t much subtlety to what the metaphors behind Elysium are supposed to be, but I agree with the messages of the film and the fact that they are presented in a straight forward way means that the depth of the story will reach an even wider audience.  Although the characters are more broadly drawn here than they were in District 9, the story is still quite affective and there is a lot of suspense that builds up towards the exciting finale.  The stakes are high throughout the film, moving at a quick pace that keeps us invested, and there are several solidly crafted action sequences that explode with bursts of shockingly brutal violence.

Matt Damon is rock solid in the leading role, reminding us once again just how adept he is when it comes to handling both scenes of combat and the quieter character driving moments.  Sharlto Copley is pure insanity as Kruger, a villain with “psychological issues” and no moral line he won’t cross.  But there is another performance that has been the point of much discussion.  I have a huge amount of respect and admiration for Jodie Foster, but I’m not quite sure what tone she was trying to strike with her supporting role.  Although I think this was the point of her character, she comes across as cold and almost robotic, over enunciating much of her dialogue.

Although Elysium isn’t as groundbreaking as District 9, the technical merits are reason enough to see the film.  There is some distractingly shaky camerawork during a couple of the grittier scenes, but the production values are consistently excellent throughout.  Neill Blomkamp has a genuine eye for visuals, and he has delivered another striking film to watch.  The look of the film is highly admirable, with the crowded images of our ravaged and overpopulated planet providing a memorable juxtaposition with the sterile beauty of Elysium.  The visuals provide a hauntingly realistic portrayal of an abandoned Earth, a planet that has been left behind for those who don’t have enough money for a better life.

Despite some of the scrutiny that the film has received, I liked Elysium.  The surprisingly affecting final few scenes cut to black at just the right moment, and Matt Damon does an excellent job of carrying the movie.  This is another solidly crafted piece of thought provoking science fiction entertainment, and I am genuinely excited to see what Neill Blomkamp has in store for us next.

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