dir-scr Neill Blomkamp
prd Bill Bock, Neill Blomkamp, Simon Kinberg
with Matt Damon, Jodie Foster, William Fichtner, Alice Braga, Sharlto Copley, Diego Luna, Wagner Moura, Emma Tremblay, Jose Pablo Cantillo, Josh Blacker, Brandon Auret, Faran Tahir
release US 9.Aug.13, UK 21.Aug.13
13/Canada Sony 1h49
Plugged in: Moura and Damon

foster fichtner braga
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
Elysium Blomkamp recreates the same edgy, offhanded future as in District 9 to recount another fable about present-day Earth in a sci-fi story. This time the issue is the growing divide between the haves and have nots and, even though the story lacks an emotional punch, the strong acting and riveting visuals command attention.

In 2154 Los Angeles is an endless, teeming shantytown where factory worker Max (Damon) is constantly harassed by robotic cops. He has always dreamed of going to Elysium, a floating environment where the wealthy escape the overcrowded, polluted Earth and have access to high-tech health care. When Max's health takes a nasty turn, he turns to Spider (Moura) for an illegal shuttle to Elysium's healing machines. Then he stumbles into a plot by Elysium Secretary Rhodes (Foster) to seize control of the colony with the help of contractor Carlyle (Fichtner) and sleeper goon Kruger (Copley).

Blomkamp's sure-handed direction throws us straight into the story, which is a sort of prequel to Wall-E. We understand why Max and his childhood crush Frey (Braga) have yearned to visit Elysium to escape from the chaos of the L.A. favelas, which are photographed with jarring shaky-cam that makes the digital effects work look seamless. Even on the more smoothly, richly photographed Elysium, the special effects are a matter-of-fact part of the landscape. Our attention is always on the characters.

Damon gives another unexpected against-type turn as the muscly, desperate Max, just trying to find a way out of the squalor. His friendship with Julio (Luna) is the strongest relationship in the movie. Braga is superb, although the script tries too hard to make her the movie's emotional core. While we're gripped by her journey, we never really feel it. Villain-wise, Copley is jaw-droppingly vicious, Fichtner is slick and slimy, and Foster commands the screen with her steely, twitchy nastiness.

Like District 9, the film has a clear parallel with present-day society, as the top percent of wealthy people have already secluded themselves from the rest of the world, enjoying luxuriant lifestyles, cutting-edge medicine and political privileges the rest of us can barely imagine. Blomkamp lays this on a bit heavy-handedly, but he also lets it hang in the background as he gets on with simpler pleasures like outrageously violent action and punchy drama.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 25.Jul.13

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© 2013 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall