The Matrix - * * * 1/2*

Mention a science fiction film starring Keanu Reeves and Laurence Fishburne and you might conjure up frightening images of Johnny Mnemonic or Event Horizon. However, their new film, The Matrix, is a dazzling and unique work that will certainly put those horrible nightmares to rest.

Thomas Anderson (Keanu Reeves) is a normal guy living a boring life in 1999. All his life he has felt something is not quite right. One question inexplicably burns in his mind: What Is The Matrix?

To escape the dull routines of daily life, Thomas lives a double life. By day, he’s a software programmer at a monolithic corporation. At night, he becomes a computer hacker, using the alias Neo, desperately searching for the answer to the question that plagues him.

He comes close to getting his answer when he is contacted by an elite group of hackers, including Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss), Cypher (Joe Pantoliano), and led by the enigmatic Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne). Neo doesn’t have long to decide whether to trust this ragtag bunch. When a mysterious government agent (Hugo Weaving) beings pursuing him, he finds himself forced to make a decision upon which rides the fate of his entire existence.

Writer-directors Larry and Andy Wachowski have crafted a stunning fusion of a Hong Kong action film and a cyberpunk graphic novel. The special effects are impressive, particularly when they are seamlessly integrated into the film’s action sequences. The film transitions from regular speed to slow motion and back again in the middle of several stunts, offering plenty of eye candy.

The Matrix is rife with symbolic imagery, so much so that it makes you wonder if the entire film is a religous allegory of some sort. From names (Trinity, Zion, The Oracle, Nebuchadnezzar, etc.) to religious themes (faith, enlightenment, the chosen one, miracles, resurrection, and so forth), there’s a little bit of everything in The Matrix. It is not cohesive enough to make sense alone, but it does add an interesting flavor to the scenes.

As with any science fiction film, you have to be willing to suspend disbelief long enough to accept the premise. At least, with The Matrix, the premise is worth disbelieving for. The film starts up in the middle of the action, and it isn’t until about halfway through that everything starts falling into place. Once you see the pattern emerge, it becomes apparent that there was much thought put into the screenplay.

If the film has a weak link, it is with the characterizations. It’s surprising, since the writers were responsible for the multilayered characters in Bound. But, the characters in The Matrix are, for the most part, flat and unchanging.

The idea behind The Matrix is not a brand new concept in science fiction, however, it is one never before put so vividly upon the movie screen. Action lovers, science fiction fans, and even those who just crave a decent story will all find what they’re looking for in The Matrix.

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