Dark City

* * *

Dark City is an intriguing mixture of science fiction and film noir. Based on an original story by director Alex Proyas, the film has the look and feel of a modern comic book adaptation, but with much more substance.

Rufus Sewell stars as John Murdoch, a man who wakes up in a strange hotel room with no memory. His only clue to his former identity is a sunny postcard from a locale about which it seems everyone has a fuzzy memory.

However Mr. Murdoch's quest for his identity is hampered by two things: he is wanted for a series of grisly murders by Inspector Bumstead (William Hurt), and a mysterious group of pale bald men in trenchcoats are hunting him down. For some reason, unknown to Murdoch, they want him dead.

These men, called The Strangers, have the abilities to stop time and alter reality, a process they call "tuning". Aided and abetted by one human, Dr. Shreber (Kiefer Sutherland), their motives are mysterious and unknown, but can certainly come to no good.

The film's gothic looks and hardcore science fiction elements are both a weakness and a strength. The bizarre atmosphere are likely to be very off-putting to mainstream audiences, who will be missing a good film. At the same time, however, those same traits give the film all the earmarks of being a lasting "cult" hit.

While the film may be strange and out of the ordinary, the plot is by no means hard to follow. With several characters in the dark, the film does a good job at slowly revealing itself to them and to the audience. Still, there are plenty of questions left unresolved. For example, why isn't anybody ever accidentally harmed during the "tuning"? It also seems that more people in the city should notice the discontinuities that occur during the night.

Overall, the cast does a good job at evoking the appropriate atmosphere. Rufus Sewell gives a decent, if understated, performance as the film's everyman. Jennifer Connelly and William Hurt are underused, but enjoyable while they're onscreen. Kiefer Sutherland's breathless delivery is more annoying than innovative. As the lead Strangers, Ian Richardson and Richard O'Brien are creepily effective.

You would think that the cinematography and special effects of Dark City should be its strongest point. But while they are good, Dark City's true strength is in it's story which thoughtfully examines the changing facets of identity, memory and perception.

Don't be put off by the film's gothic imagery and bizarre themes. If you do, you'll be missing an enjoyable, if strange, film.

[R - violent images and some sexuality] (New Line)


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