Director: Lisa Joy
Written by: Lisa Joy
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Rebecca Ferguson, Thandiwe Newton, Cliff Curtis, Marina de Tavira and Daniel Wu
Reminiscence is the directorial debut from Lisa Joy, who also wrote the film. Before working on this, Joy had co-created the excellent HBO series Westworld and worked as a writer on other shows such as Pushing Daisies and Burn Notice. All of this led to Reminiscence, an ambitious big-budget neo-noir sci-fi film that is desperately needed after the hordes of superhero films, sequels, and reboots. Sadly, Reminiscence misses the mark and doesn’t quite reach its full potential.
The world Joy creates in Reminiscence is beautiful and interesting. In the future, climate change has meant that the sea levels have risen, and the world is starting to flood. There are buildings half-submerged with boat-taxis used to move around, and the Baron’s Land, where the wealthiest live in high above the rest with no risk of immediate flooding. Wars have broken out and the wealth division is physically shown by the dams that stop the water from flooding. All this combined with a 1940s noir aesthetic and the film is visually stunning.
The world isn’t utilised enough, and this would have been interesting to see more of it. Maybe if Reminiscence was a longer TV series, then it could fully explore the whole world. Instead, it focuses on Nicolas ‘Nick’ Bannister, played by Hugh Jackman (X-Men) as he searches for his lost love Mae, played by Rebecca Ferguson (Mission: Impossible).
Nick runs a reminiscence business, where people can pay to go deep into their own minds to re-visit cherished memories as if they were happening again. One day, Mae walks in trying to find where she has lost her keys and in typical noir fashion, Nick falls in love with her straight away. Months later, she’s disappeared, and Bannister goes over the memories again and again to try and find out what’s happened to her.
Both Jackman and Ferguson are excellent in their roles. Their chemistry is evident from the first time they speak to each other and it’s a pure joy to watch both of them on screen. The script has some dodgy and unnatural lines, but they bring out the best of it. The only part of Jackman’s performance that isn’t great is the voice-over that accompanies the film. Much like in the original cut of Blade Runner (which is a clear inspiration for this film; visually, plot-wise and in tone), the voice-over isn’t needed. It’s just telling you what you’re watching and there’s too much of it. It’s there just because it’s a staple of the noir genre, with the only thing missing being a comment on Mae’s legs when she walks in.
There are so many great ideas in Reminiscence that work on paper so well, but when you put them in the film, it just falls flat. Without going into spoiler territory too much, the ending sequence isn’t as emotional as it should be and amounts to nothing. There’s a moment where Mae is talking to Nick through the memories of someone else, it’s a cool idea but when presented it’s more cringy. The whole plot is incredibly contrived, and everything has to happen in the way it happens, or it all falls apart. Every moment leading to the next. The resolution to everything is obvious from one of the earlier memories. Mae gives Nick the vital clue and you’ll be screaming at him as to why he’s not following that lead but waits until the end.
On top of that there’s also some weird inconsistencies. There is a moment when Nick is told that Mae kidnaps a child, despite how much he screams her to let him go. When we finally see the event it’s not at all how she describes it, and it paints a completely different picture of Mae. It’s incredibly sloppy writing.
The worst thing about Reminiscence is that it feels like a lost opportunity. It’s so close to greatness, but doesn’t quite reach it. It’s exciting to have an original sci-fi idea with a big budget on the big-screen, with a-list actors giving great performances. But it feels very reminiscent (pun intended) of films that you’ve seen before, especially Blade Runner. It’s also really slow and feels closer to three hours than two. It’s ultimately forgettable entertainment that is enjoyable while it’s on but not for much longer, which is just a real shame.