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Matt Damon and supporting cast make 'Elysium' work

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Elysium delivers one of the most complete imaginings of a dystopian future in science fiction film history. Set in 2154, planet Earth is filled with the have-nots, while the wealthier class lives on Elysium, a posh space station floating above. Director Neill Blomkamp’s vision of Los Angeles is a crowded, smoggy, run down ghetto. 

 

In contrast, inhabitants of Elysium lounge by aquamarine swimming pools on estates with verdant lawns and fresh air. Each home contains a med bay, where a person can be healed of whatever might ail them. Secretary of Defense Delacourt (played with icy efficiency by Jodie Foster) takes draconian measures to ensure the Elysium lifestyle is protected. President Patel (Faran Tahir) limits her power, but that’s clearly not going to stop her. Sharlto Copley (who starred in Blomkamp's District-9) plays Kruger, an assassin hired by Delacourt.  Photo: sciencefiction.com

 

Matt Damon (who brings his everyman heart and humor to the role) plays Max, who grew up in an orphanage with nuns who tried to steer the energetic child onto a crime free path. In flashbacks, we see him with his friend Freya, who taught him how to read. As adult, Max is out on parole, working a factory job. He runs into Freya, (Alice Braga, I am Legend) now a nurse at the local hospital. Although he’s still smitten, Max is alienated – with so little in his life to bring him joy, he hangs onto childish dreams. Meanwhile, Freya is treating an endless line of patients (who has time for a romance?)  

 

While the relationship arc between Max and Freya is the weakest part of the story (but perhaps that is intentional), the supporting cast is superb. William Fichtner plays John Carlyle, the effete owner of the weapons and defense manufacturing company that employs Max. With his immaculate grooming, and enhanced cheekbones, he resembles one of his droids. Diego Luna (Contraband) plays Max’s loyal friend Julio and Wagner Moura is Spider- both of whom try to convince Max to return to his previous line of work. Spider is both dangerous and clever, and has a plan to get Max on that station. 

 

Blomkamp uses language to help identify where characters fall in the social hierarchy. Foster’s Delacourt fluidly alternates between French and English, while Copley’s Kruger speaks English (and what I think I heard is Afrikaans) and Max speaks Spanish with his friends and the neighborhood children. 

 

The filmmaker sneaks subtle details into the Elysium citizens’ appearance. The weapons make Stark Industries’ products look like toys by comparison, and the related special effects were extraordinary. It is disconcerting to observe the evolution of droids in films - these various units recall I Robot, Cylons, the Star Trek traffic cop, and of course, the Terminator.    

 

The storyline in Elysium is a bit heavy handed, but like all great science fiction, it leaves the audience with something to think about.

Warning: The movie deserves its R rating for realistic, graphic violence- particularly one gruesome scene that might turn some stomachs. 

 


 

 

Contact Diane Cooney at dcooney@philly2philly.com

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Photo: sciencefiction.com