Saturday, September 14, 2013

“Elysium” – Didn’t Jodie Foster used to be an actor?

There’s a lot to be said for actors who are cast based on merit rather than reputation. Filmmakers who care about their project do the former and they do latter solely for the almighty dollar. Holding auditions almost always works out better because the right actor will usually be chosen for the part. On the other hand, selecting a name is a huge roll of the dice because you can’t know how it will turn out until after filming begins. At that point, there’s no turning back. In a related story – Ben Affleck will be the next Batman.

Maybe I’m being overly pessimistic, but it’s hard to believe that auditions are still regularly held for lead roles or most supporting roles anymore. Elysium seems to be a perfect example of that. After the success of District 9, Neill Blomkamp (director/producer/writer) was given a larger budget and A-list stars in Matt Damon and Jodie Foster for Elysium. Damon is a very low risk given his wide body of work and excellence as Jason Bourne. Handing him the lead in a sci-fi action flick is a no-brainer. Foster, on the other hand, is a very bizarre choice as the villain, considering her lack of experience as such. She is a major risk and after seeing her performance in Elysium, she either didn’t audition or Blomkamp was sick at home the day she did. In the words of Agent J in Men in Black – “…’cause… damn.”

Elysium takes place in 2154, after the rich have left Earth to live on an idyllic space habitat called Elysium. They want for nothing, run the businesses on Earth, and have developed medical beds (med-bays) that can heal any injury, cure any disease, and prolong life by decades, if not forever. Everyone else lives on Earth in decaying cities, desperate for jobs and struggling to survive. Among them is Max (Damon), an ex-con now working an assembly line. After suffering a workplace accident, Max is told he has five days to live, so he decides to do whatever it takes to get to Elysium and a med-bay. He contacts Spider (Wagner Moura), who smuggles people to Elysium via illegal flights and agrees to help Max, providing Max does a job in return. Spider’s plan is to kidnap a citizen of Elysium, thus giving him access codes to land ships on Elysium. To accomplish this, Max is fitted with a robotic exoskeleton, which will allow him to physically function despite his deteriorating body (due to the accident).

Meanwhile, Jessica Delacourt (Foster), Elysium’s secretary of defense, is tired of being restricted to non-lethal forms of defense and hatches a plot to overthrow the president and take power for herself. Unsurprisingly, her plan collides with Spider’s plan and the movie is off to the races as Max tries to get to Elysium and Delacourt tries to stop him, including by deploying her own exoskeleton-clad warrior, Kruger (Sharlto Copley).

As a whole, the film is fairly standard action fare, and a good one at that, but is dragged down by Foster’s atrocious performance. Had this been a lesser film with other flaws – maybe something as terrible as Lockout – we might not have noticed or maybe cut her some slack. Unfortunately, her randomly changing accent, poor delivery, and complete unbelievability as a villain stood in stark contrast to everything else in the film. Damon turned in a great performance, making Max’s desperation almost palpable. Copley was the perfect opposite to Damon, delivering a blood-thirsty mercenary who will haunt your dreams. Even the special effects were startling good; beyond what is expected from a $115 million budget. Everything looked so real, including Elysium itself, borrowing from Larry Niven’s Ringworld in its design, nearly convincing us to glance at the sky just to be sure it really is imaginary. Toss in the well-crafted action sequences and good supporting characters and Foster is the nasty brown smog blurring an otherwise beautiful city.

After all of this, I go back to wondering how Foster landed a role she was so poorly suited for and how much better the movie would have been by casting someone else. What makes it worse is that she used to be good; really good. This performance makes you wonder if she forgot how to act. Again – “…’cause… damn.”

Rating: Ask for two dollars back. Hopefully this won’t be a setback for Blomkamp and he can get on with auditions for District 10 (we hope).

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