Matt Damon, Jodie Foster, Alice Braga. Directed by Neill Blomkamp.
On some post-apocalyptic future Earth, Max Da Costa (Matt Damon) wears a locator device around his ankle as part of his probation for some unspecified crime. He has a job in some kind of robot factory, and he reports to a probation officer who is really a computer voice coming out of a plastic statue somewhat reminiscent of a Bob’s Big Boy figure. The peace, such as it exists, is kept by the robots Max helps build, who are governed from above the earth in a space station called Elysium, where all the wealthy Earthlings have fled, and where all illnesses and diseases are cured by MedBays located in every residence.
There’s an accident in the robot factory, and Max is exposed to a lethal dose of radiation. His only hope is to get a fake ID burned into his arm and then to sneak up to Elysium and into one of the MedBays. Such a move is possible, but Spider, the guy who illegally helps people make it, isn’t just giving them away, and he has a special job that only someone of Max’s skills (and desperation) could attempt: stealing a backup of Elyisum’s operating system so it can be controlled by Spider.
Jodie Foster is Elysium’s defense secretary, and she’s got plans of her own for that system backup. She can’t afford simply to destroy Max, but she does need to stop him from accomplishing his goal. She’s got a lot of power, but who couldn’t use just a little more?
I thought this movie was going to be pretty awful, but I had a two-for-one rental code from Red Box, and I admire Damon enough to give him a shot, no matter how terrible the movie trailer looks. Through the first two thirds of the film, I felt pretty good about my Damon bias. For all his action-hero roles in recent years, his strength as an actor comes from a sincerity that allows him to connect believably with other characters. Damon is at his best when his characters interact meaningfully with other characters, and there’s just enough of that early in the picture to make this movie work. There’s some good buddy-buddy stuff, there’s some good rivals-who-need-each-other stuff, and there’s a little bit of one-who-got-away stuff, and it all pretty much works on the strength of Damon’s talents.
Where the movie stops working is where this film turns into a defeat-all-comers shoot-em-up, which is pretty much the final act of the film.
A few props for Alice Braga as the love interest who says more with her eyes than with her mouth, but she and Damon are the only ones who deserve some love. For some inexplicable reason, Foster is given this ridiculous accent that turns almost all of her scenes into some kind of clown show. It’s one of the worst performances by this good actress I’ve ever seen. And I’ve seen Nell.
Elysium doesn’t show you much that other dystopian pictures haven’t already shown you, so there’s nothing groundbreaking there, and while I can’t point to a specific movie that’s given us the same heavy-handed message about the one percent vs. everyone else, all of that feels familiar too. Robots are on the humdrum side, and weapons are kind of cool but not cool enough to make anyone’s best-of lists, so the sci-fi aspect of this movie is kind of blah.