Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Review: District 9

Seldom do I see a film in the theater that, after the credits roll, makes me want to stand up, walk outside and purchase another ticket for the next showing. This is exactly how I felt after seeing District 9 this past weekend.

The amount of praise I wish to heap upon this film makes me feel like a critical sellout. But I assure you, no palm greasing has taken place. District 9 is simply worthy of every kind word I’m about to throw at it.

First, something must be said about co-writer and director Neill Blomkamp. I do not envy this dude. He came out of nowhere to make his big-time debut with one of the, if not THE, best movies I’ve seen this year and what is now one of my favorite Sci-Fi films of all time. He may have set the bar too high with this one. Good luck living up to my expectations on your next project, Mr. Weird-last-name.

Aside from fantastic writing and direction, District 9 is full of admirable qualities sure to be enjoyed by movie-goers who don’t need to see ‘splosions every thirteen second to be entertained. There are plenty of things going boom, of course, but for a film about aliens being stranded on Earth and forced to live in refugee camps to have this much brains is just shy of boggling.

Racial, political and class(ical?) issues serve as a backbone for this film which somehow manages to say a lot without shoving anything down the throat of the viewer. There’s loads to think about when you aren’t too busy being dazzled by the performances and presentation.

Speaking of which, lead actor Sharlto Copley (what is it with this film and dudes with weird names?) does a ridiculously good job in his first role on the silver screen. Instantly believable and overflowing with energy, Copley’s portrayal of unlikely hero Wikus Van De Merwe (Again!) is award worthy.

Next up is the pacing. District 9 is a perfect story arch that begins slowly and builds to a final act that’s more explosive and entertaining than anything you’re likely to have seen in quite a while. The movie starts as a documentary, shot with various cameras and put together exactly as you would expect to see a genuine film of the genre. As the second third of District 9 begins, the documentary aspects begin to fade, giving way to a style more akin to a drama. When the final act comes, though, it’s all-out action.

The formula works well and, running just shy of two hours, everything feels perfectly timed. Not too long. Not too short. Just right.

Much like the film’s transition from documentary to action/thriller, so too does the CG evolve. At first, the alien ship and the aliens themselves are the only special effects you’ll notice. They’re obvious, of course, but subtle and appropriate. As the pace ramps up, the technological wizardry follows right along, adding up to what is easily some of the best use of movie-making bells and whistles to date.

I was excited to see District 9 in the first place, and I’m even more excited for my return visit. If I find myself with a bit too much free time in the coming weeks, my next trip may come sooner than the DVD release. I’m eager to make my way back to the theater, plop down in my seat with soda and popcorn in hand and once again be treated to some of the most engaging cinema in recent memory.

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