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Elysium Movie Review - -

Reviewed by Damien Straker on August 15th, 2013
presents a film directed by Neill Blomkamp
Screenplay by Neill Blomkamp
Matt Damon, Jodie Foster and Sharlto Copley
Running Time: 109 minutes
Rating: MA15+
Released: August 15th, 2013



Elysium is built on a promising setup that held me in anticipation, only to fizzle out into a series of generic setpieces that downplays the smarts of this sometimes exciting science-fiction thriller. It's a good idea still waiting to happen but ultimately a disappointment bred from a weak screenplay, questionable casting and a lack of ambition.

District 9 director Neill Blomkamp helms the film. He was born in Johannesburg, South African in 1979 during apartheid. After making a number of short films about South Africa that featured spectacular use of CGI drawn robots, he was set to direct a film version of Halo, one of the most popular video games of all time, with Peter Jackson as a producer, but the deal fell through.

It is hard to read what the filmmaker is trying to achieve now. His mother has said that her profession of running an interpretation company for the United Nations has influenced her son. Yet the thirty-three year old director believes that films are not impactful. "Anybody who thinks they can change the world by making films is sorely mistaken," he commented.

He's wrong. Cinema's influence is limited by how ambitious and how unnerving a filmmaker is willing to be. Films can teach and educate people about the world and different cultures. Mainstream blockbusters choose not to aim that high. Film critic Roger Ebert also argued films can either be a positive or negative influence on society.

District 9's limitations were forged by a partition between form and content. It visualised a compelling dystopian world where aliens were the hunted, a discriminated life form. Yet the film resolved itself through action rather than thematically supporting the world.

The same is true of Elysium. The visual details are outstanding. The film opens over the city of Los Angeles in the year 2154 in what could be the slums of South Africa. Overhead helicopter shots photograph the dusty wasteland - a result of overpopulation we're told. Blomkamp's handheld cameras shakily take us around the slums and gang filled streets that are patrolled by robot police. The atmosphere, with Mexico passing for LA, is thrilling.

Juxtaposing the slums is the world of Elysium, a space station that has been constructed for the wealthiest people from Earth. There are mansions and gardens and special medical bays that can instantly heal people. The colours are more sanitised but also harder and colder. The soundtrack plays Bach's Cello Suite No. 1 because what else would the wealthy listen to? Refugees arrive by spaceships, seeking to use the medical equipment if they aren't mercilessly shot down first.

The film isn't subtle about its socio-political concerns, but the two contrasting worlds are stunningly visualised and the thematic outset of immigration and segregation has rarely felt timelier. The first half of the narrative is promising too. Matt Damon plays Max, who was raised by nuns but grew up to become a thieving convict. He now works in a factory run by John Carlyle (William Fichtner).

One of Max's dreams as a child was to make it to Elysium but this seems unlikely because bureaucrats like Delacourt (Jodie Foster) are intent on keeping the immigrants out. She uses a crazed mercenary on Earth named Kruger (Sharlto Copley) to help shoot any immigration aircraft down.

After having his arm broken by a robot, Baldy reunites with his childhood friend Frey (Alice Braga), who is a working nurse and has a sick daughter who she'd like to take to Elysium. Later, Max suffers a radioactive accident in the factory he learns he only has five days to live. Needing to find a med bay to heal, he crawls towards a local crime boss for help and is offered him a job: a heist to steal some important information off Carlyle's very person.

The heist is the climatic high-point of the movie, an exciting, viscerally staged standoff against a number of robotic enforcers. From this point onwards the film struggles to sustain an engaging through line and doesn't fulfill the initial promise of the themes. The second half of the film is disposable, reduced to running and hiding, predictable corridor shootouts and a dully conventional boss fight, capped off by a laughably simplistic ending.

Three or four threads converge into a soulless action structure and the casting and the characters are treated with irrelevancy. Blomkamp wanted South African rapper Ninja and then Eminem for the part of Max. They would have been grittier and suitably uglier leads. Damon is a fine character actor but he's miscast playing a tattooed ex-con. After having armour surgically fused onto his body you'd think Max would have a greater reaction than saying: "What did you do to me?" Jodi Foster plays her character as suitably merciless and uptight but the role lacks additional shades. Copley is appropriately scruffy and intimidating as the psychotic and sometimes frightening mercenary.

In Elysium corporations have built an amazing world, but withheld it from those who dream bigger and could truly use its amazing technology. If the impoverished were to live on Elysium and have access to this healthcare technology would it be reduced to another wasteland? Films are able to change the world and influence people when they test our beliefs and create indistinguishable lines between the right and wrong answers. Wealth does not simply segregate class - it's a limitation of the imagination too.


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