Lisa Joy’s directorial debut, “Reminiscence,” is the type of film the major studios would have released in the 1990s or early aughts, appealing to adults without spending a fortune on the budget. The movie hits theaters and HBO Max today.
Hugh Jackman plays Nick Bannister, a private investigator using technology to scan people’s minds for specific events, helping the police catch criminals. Joy sets the film in a sunken Miami of the future, retaining the neo-noir aspect of a traditional detective story with the art-deco, modernistic look popular in Miami.
“Reminiscence” is a story of the “haves and have-nots.” Money and power are isolated on an island, a sort of reverse moat. The gutter rats are left to ‘infest’ downtown and the beach area. Our characters are nocturnal as well, a product of the environment.
Thandwie Newton (“Solo: A Star Wars Story,” “Mission: Impossible 2”) supports Nick as Watts. As Nick seeks to find the woman of his dreams, Mae (Rebecca Ferguson), Nick becomes obsessed and can’t discern between his being in the bottle and his trips back into his memory.
Jackman has a rote style as an actor and a singular profile that typecast him into specific roles. He finds a dramatic side in Nick that was inspiring. He’s been in other similar parts, but here Jackman bridges the action with the words. He still doesn’t listen to Watts to stay in the present.
Here’s the point where you’ll ask, “what’s the movie all about?”
In his quest to find out more about Mae, Nick must uncover a trail that involves a crooked policeman, Cyrus Booth, played by Cliff Curtis, and a mastermind, Walter Sylvan (Brett Cullen). Saint Joe (Daniel Wu) stands between the two, a criminal mastermind of his kind who doesn’t know when to back down. The scene where Wu and Jackman’s face-off is staged beautifully. The damp and dank bar in New Orleans serves as the stage for their fight. Paul Cameron’s cinematography captures the essence of the scene – kill or be killed.
A word about Cliff Curtis: I’ve been impressed with him ever since I saw him in “Virus.” I know the New Zealander had roles in films before “Virus,” but he caught my attention in that film as someone who can hold his own and that the camera is drawn. He’s got a magnetism that compels you to watch his performance in any role. When he comes to blows with Jackman, the background might be way over the top in special effects, but the fight choreography is first-rate.
As with “The Protégé,” you’ll walk away, or perhaps even roll your eyes at the ‘been there, done that’ aspect. “Reminiscence” is a cross between “Inception” and either Paul Verhoeven’s “Total Recall” or, more obscurely, Joseph Rusnak’s “The Thirteenth Floor.” I have a sinking suspicion that by mentioning the latter film that the Tomato Meter just dropped 10 points because I said it, and that film wasn’t very well-reviewed.
“Reminiscence” has little layers of human connection that were fascinating. They do get lost in the shuffle of trips into people’s minds, and the ambition doesn’t quite work out as well it intended to.
“Reminiscence” is the type of film that adults say they want and is a genuinely old-fashioned love story. Its complex visual layers render the characters a bit more one-dimensional than they intended. Lisa Joy gives far more detail in this film than her brother-in-law, Christopher, would in one of his films. The ambition just got the better of her. Still, it’s worth the price of your subscription, and if you’re feeling adventurous, it perhaps is worth checking out on the big screen.
One word of advice: if you’re into the movie, it will probably take more than one viewing to catch all the little details.