People are living their lives remotely on sensory simulators in mechanical armchairs from the safety of their own homes via robotic surrogates; sexy, physically perfect mechanical (and vastly upgraded) representations of themselves. It's an ideal world where crime, pain, fear and consequences don't exist. The only ones who object are the minority 'meatbags' - humans who despise the surrogate system and live in communes. When the first murder in years jolts this utopia, FBI agent Greer (Bruce Willis) discovers a vast conspiracy behind the surrogate phenomenon and must leave his home for the first time in years and abandon his own surrogate, risking his life to unravel the mystery.
Review by Louise Keller:
High concept and high budget, Surrogates adds astounding techno magic to ideas mooted in films like Multiplicity, Total Recall and I Robot, but fails to achieve the humanity the film champions. It's as though the film is trying so hard to dazzle that the dazzle comes in the way. That's not to say it's all bad. On the contrary. There are some very good elements including the eerie way surrogates are portrayed as both miracles and perversions. The goodies are also the baddies, just as the goodies become the baddies, if you know what I mean. So while it's in part an entertaining dalliance into a world where you can become anyone you want without risking anything or venturing anywhere, the film is also a frustration when a confluence of interesting elements leaves us dissatisfied.
There's no faulting the cast, however. Bruce Willis can't go wrong playing the reluctant hero, and here, there is extra fascination, when digital make-up and a 3D mask allows him to look 20 years younger. So there's the young, smooth-skinned, taut jawed Bruce Willis, complete with a full head of blond hair playing the surrogate, and the real Bruce Willis, with salt and pepper beard, shaved head and laughter lines, who is pulling the strings as FBI agent Greer. The relationship between Greer and his complex wife Maggie (Rosamund Pike is wonderful) is one of the high points of the film: Maggie has become addicted to being embodied in her flawless, beautiful surrogate, on whose perfect skin, hair and body she has become reliant. Radha Mitchell is effective as Greer's FBI side-kick Peters, whose surrogate persona also has a robotic perfection. It is quite spooky when characters like James Cromwell's surrogate creator Canter become embodied in surrogates with different faces and Ving Rhames is almost unrecognisable as the fanatical Prophet, who wants us all to connect with each other.
Visual effects form the heartbeat of the film and the technicals are all extraordinary. I could have done without some of the jumpy hand held camera work and it would be a fair bet to say that director Jonathan Mostow's motto is not 'less is more'. However, the concept allows us to springboard into interesting territory; if only the writers and director had taken us there.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Bruce Willis still, after a lifetime it seems, does the best battered warrior waging the good fight and with a good woman behind or next or somewhere near him. The tight lipped, unharried and self sufficient big boy scout comes out again in this sci fi pudding ... or is it a soufflé. There is a great deal of superficial novelty to hold our interest, from the central premise of a society (developed countries only, natch) served by real world avatars, linked to their owner-operators via some kind of mind-driven control. Not explained - but then how could it be.
These surrogates were the invention of a now reclusive mad scientist (James Cromwell) ... and you can tell we're slipping into formula. After his invention has taken the world by storm, he's rudely bundled out, leaving him a bitter and dangerous recluse, who .... But I won't spoil the story.
The technical delivery is fascinating and there are moments of high drama, but the story gets too muddied and we're not sure whose surrogate is which, especially as some look like their owners and some don't. You can retain youthful beauty (as many do) or even reduce your look-alike to a teenager - as some also do. The confusion dissipated the film's dramatic impact (and makes redundant some of the stars). Ving Rhames gets away with some ham as The Prophet, leader of the rebellious human colonies, and of course much of the supporting cast is wooden (plastic) because they have to be.
Radha Mitchell delivers as the efficient Agent Peters, Greer's offsider, but it's Rosamund Pike as his troubled wife - or mostly her surrogate - who injects the emotional firepower into the film. It's not quite enough to propel the film into our hearts, but it's the best thing, her amazing face both beautiful and fascinating, even with surrogate make up.
And speaking of the make up/effects, you'll get a kick out of the Greer surrogate, in which we see a sandy haired Bruce Willis with 18 year old skintone. As if Hollywood didn't already lumber its denizens with an overwhelming burden about self image, they now have something new and even more permanent to aspire to. But no, the film is not a morality tale about these things; I wish it were.
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CAST: Bruce Willis, Radha Mitchell, Rosamund Pike, James Francis Ginty, Boris Kodjoe, James Cromwell, Ving Rhames
PRODUCER: David Hoberman, Todd Lieberman, Max Handelman
DIRECTOR: Johnathan Mostow
SCRIPT: John Brancato, Michael Ferris (graphic novel by Robert Venditti and Brett Weldele)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Oliver Wood
EDITOR: Kevin Stitt
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Jeff Man
RUNNING TIME: 88 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Walt Disney Studios
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: September 24, 2009