This is the directorial debut of Wally Pfister, who served as Director of Photography on big budget films such as all three Christopher Nolan Batman films, The Prestige, Inception, and Moneyball. Most of these are Nolan films and he’s known for having a very unique style, so people were excited to see if Nolan’s protege Pfister would make a big splash with his debut film. So does he?
The gist is that Will Caster (Johnny Depp) is creating an artificial intelligence along with his wife (Rebecca Hall) and partner Max (Paul Bettany). However, pretty early in the film, he is shot by a rogue anti-technology group and his wife decides to upload his consciousness into the computer. The movie is then about discovering if this is really Will or just a clever intelligence. And once they figure out what it is, they then have to figure out what it wants. Other stars include Cillian Murphy, Morgan Freeman, and Kata Mara.
You can tell Pfister’s experience is in cinematography, as the film looks gorgeous. That’s about it.
What doesn’t work?
While the film looks amazing, that’s really the only upside. And even the cinematography becomes a hindrance after awhile. Slow motion becomes overused and almost every shot in the movie is trying to be creative, playing with depth and objects in the foreground and interesting angles. The dialogue should stand on its own, without clever camera tricks to make it seem interesting.
And even with these tricks, the movie fails to be interesting. It’s the middle of the day and I could barely stay awake. It’s slow. The trailers would lead you to believe there were epic Inception-like moments but these moments are drastically less interesting in the film than the trailer would let on. There’s only really one or two action scenes and they fail to impress. Most of the movie is quiet, also missing Nolan’s incredible choice in music. Pfister didn’t get that message, I guess.
And then let’s back up even another step and look at the script. It doesn’t really make sense. Some movies can pull that off, so that when you walk out, you’re left thinking about it. But this movie, the lights came up and I was just frustrated that this movie failed on so many fronts. I appreciated his vision, but the story was a mess and doesn’t really stand up to scrutiny. And there’s an Inception-like moment at the end that is more groan-worthy than crowd-pleasing.
Was there anything wrong with the acting? No, not especially. I feel like Pfister met most of these folks on previous Nolan films and they did him a favor here. They’re all good (Bettany being the outstanding one among the bunch) but the script gives them very little to do.
Just because you have one skill set, doesn’t mean that you have all the skill sets. Wally Pfister created some awesome shots here but he lacked the experience to look critically at this script and fix it up before bringing it to life. That mixed with a poor use of music, underutilized talent, and an overuse of camera tricks created a film that is underwhelming and unimpressive.