dir Wally Pfister
scr Jack Paglen
prd Kate Cohen, Broderick Johnson, Andrew A Kosove, Annie Marter, Marisa Polvino, Aaron Ryder, David Valdes
with Johnny Depp, Rebecca Hall, Paul Bettany, Morgan Freeman, Kate Mara, Cillian Murphy, Cole Hauser, Clifton Collins Jr, Cory Hardrict, Falk Hentschel, Josh Stewart, Lukas Haas
release US 18.Apr.14, UK 25.Apr.14
14/US Alcon 1h59
Big ideas: Depp, Hall and Bettany

freeman mara murphy
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
Transcendence Interesting ideas pack this sci-fi thriller, but none are even remotely tackled by the simplistic script. So the film feels like has something important to say, but never quite gets around to it. And while cinematographer-turned-director Pfister's patient approach to storytelling looks gorgeous, it also feels painfully slow.

After anti-technology terrorists brutally attack leading scientists, top artificial-intelligence expert Will (Depp) is fatally injured. So his wife Evelyn (Hall)and his colleague Max (Bettany) upload Will's consciousness to a computer before he dies. Two years later, Evelyn and virtual Will have advanced science to the point where they can cure serious illnesses and save the planet, but there's a dark price to pay. And the terrorists are still on the loose, led by the tenacious Bree (Mara). And now Max, fellow expert Joseph (Freeman) and FBI Agent Buchanan (Murphy) have to choose sides.

Pfister's brainy filmmaking style lends itself to a deep exploration of big moral themes, but Paglen's script is more interested in creating clear-cut lines of good versus evil, never allowing a split-second of ambiguity. Even Evelyn's crisis of conscience is straightforward, and Hall's performance is easily the most complex element in the story. By comparison, everyone else has their minds made up long before they're presented with any reality-bending facts.

Oddly, the film feels backed up by only cursory research into the topic. And the visual design misses several tricks, creating a cliched lair for Evelyn and Will (all glass and endless white corridors), with ubiquitous computer screens flickering with scrolling text and a dull head-and-shoulders Depp. With so little to do, it's no wonder that Depp indulges in his usual pointless tics. Otherwise, Bettany has the only intriguing character, but he never gets to take him far enough (for example, is he in love with Evelyn ... or Will?).

This is the kind of film that could have explored an important theme like, say, Gattaca, which it resembles tonally. But instead of digging into moral issues, political implications and emotional fallout, this script skims the surface, falling into a humanity-in-danger formulaic trap. With Pfister's achingly slow direction, this ends up like an action movie shown in slow motion. In other words, it's perfectly watchable, but needed either more depth or more oomph.

cert 12 themes, language, violence 21.Apr.14

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