Nick Bannister, a private investigator of the mind, navigates the alluring world of the past when his life is changed by new client Mae. A simple case becomes an obsession after she disappears and he fights to learn the truth about her.
If anyone has watched much of HBO’s ‘Westworld’, you’ll recognise many elements of its most recent season in ‘Reminiscence’, the feature debut from ‘Westworld’ showrunner Lisa Joy. This is a science fiction mystery, told through the style of film noir, with as much care and attention (if not more) put into the beautiful architecture that fills the background of the dystopia that is future Miami. It’s an ambitious film with much to like, but it also has many flaws that it never quite overcomes as the story plays out.
It follows Nick Bannister (Hugh Jackman), a man who runs a business that provides people access to machines where they can relive their memories for any purpose they desire. To remember a lost love, a childhood highlight, or even to help solve a mystery as simple as where you left your keys. When a woman, Mae (Rebecca Ferguson), enters his life and just as quickly disappears, Nick finds himself increasingly obsessive about finding out why, becoming reliant on his machines to establish the truth. Nick is a classic noir hero, washed up, full of regret and of course an alcoholic/recovering alcoholic, and he also has a voiceover that helps to keep the audience up to speed with the happenings on the screen. Jackman plays him well. As Mae, Rebecca Ferguson is perfectly cast as the archetypal femme fatale, and we can understand why Nick fell for and became obsessed by her.
The challenge ‘Reminiscence’ has is that the mystery of her disappearance is not as interesting as Joy thinks it is, nor is the way the story is told as compelling as it could be. That’s largely because of the central storytelling device that surrounds the machines that can track memories, which means that much of the film is spent with characters searching into the past to find clues to the present – honest to the concept at hand but it does make the storytelling come off as fairly detached, more akin to reading a synopsis than living an experience. Think of ‘Harry Potter’ if half the movies were told through the Mirror of Erised, if you will.
The elements surrounding the story are really cool though, no surprise given the architecture porn has been one of the stronger aspects of recent ‘Westworld’ episodes. In ‘Reminiscence’, Miami has started to retreat into the sea and has became known as the ‘Sunken City’, and it’s a really cool concept for a dystopia, allowing for hotels that are half underwater/half above ground, partially flooded streets, water taxis, and an interesting tie back to genuine climate concerns of the modern age. It feels almost realistic in a portrayal of what our future could look like.
‘Reminiscence’ is a solid debut from Lisa Joy, showing her talent for world building and exploring intriguing science fiction concepts, but like recent ‘Westworld’ series, it does fall down in aspects of its storytelling which fails to make the mystery and characters at its heart grip as much as the setting does.
Directed By: Lisa Joy
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Rebecca Ferguson, Thandiwe Newton, Cliff Curtis, Marina de Tavira, Daniel Wu, Mojean Aria, Brett Cullen, Natalie Martinez and Angela Sarafyan