Swan Song

Review by Rich Cline | 4/5

Swan Song
dir-scr Benjamin Cleary
prd Mahershala Ali, Rebecca Bourke, Jonathan King, Jacob Perlin, Adam Shulman, Mimi Valdes
with Mahershala Ali, Naomie Harris, Glenn Close, Awkwafina, Adam Beach, Nyasha Hatendi, Lee Shorten, Dax Rey, JayR Tinaco, Jessica Hayles, Mikayla Lagman, Luke Camilleri
release US/UK 17.Dec.21
21/US Apple 1h52

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ali and awkwafina
With a sci-fi premise that cleverly takes a backseat to the more human elements in the story, this warm and earthy drama explores issues of mortality, memory and legacy from a compelling, inventive angle. With his feature debut, writer-director Benjamin Cleary skilfully reveals the full story through a swirl of memories, honing in on deeper feelings that create a stunning narrative flow. And it's packed with surprising wrinkles.
In the near future, artistically minded Cameron (Ali) has been diagnosed with a terminal illness, and Dr Scott (Close) has a brand-new option to protect his wife Poppy (Harris) and young son Cory (Rey) from grief. Dr Scott's team will copy Cameron at the molecular level, creating a duplicate who doesn't know he's not an original. As part of the process, Cameron meets Kate (Awkwafina) as well as her happy duplicate. And now he's grappling with the process of giving up his life to someone who can provide his loved ones with a happy future.
With a range of vintage and coolly sleek settings, the film features eye-catching technology that's all of the everyday sort, such as cars and phones. So the people remain grounded, infused with an authentic spark of humour and irony. Cameron's years with Poppy play back in evocative scenes as his memories are tested against his duplicate, bringing up moments that are silly and joyful as well as heartbreaking. And along the way, more information comes into play that increases the tension within his emotional reality.

Ali is riveting as the thoughtful Cameron, and even more so when he's playing scenes opposite himself. The two Camerons' heightened emotions are powerfully resonant, made even more pungent by the fact that they share the same feelings about Poppy and Cory. Reuniting after Moonlight, Ali and Harris spark terrific chemistry together, as the always excellent Harris adds deeper angles to the story, including a remarkable sense that she has a big life off-screen. Meanwhile, both Close and Awkwafina make a gentler impact.

Along with the complex, textured exploration of identity, the underlying question of course is whether grief is something that we should be trying to avoid. The film's pacing drifts a bit in the final act, threatening to turn in a more plot-driven direction. But Cleary continues to tell this moving story with nuance, provocatively exploring emotions with an unusual attention to detail. It's a film that we feel viscerally on a level far beyond what we see. So it's likely to linger.

cert 15 themes, language 10.Dec.21

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© 2021 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall