By the year 2154 the wealthy live on a pristine man-made space station called Elysium, and the rest live on an overpopulated, ruined Earth. Secretary Rhodes (Jodie Foster) will stop at nothing to enforce anti-immigration laws and preserve the luxurious lifestyle of the citizens of Elysium – like using undercover mercenary Kruger (Sharlto Copley). That doesn't stop the people of Earth from trying to get in, by any means they can. When unlucky Max (Matt Damon) is backed into a corner, he agrees to take on a daunting mission that if successful will not only save his life, but could bring equality to these polarized worlds.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
The wealthy elite upstairs, the working class drones below ground was the concept at the heart of the first ever feature length sci-fi movie: Fritz Lang's 1927 masterpiece, the silent B&W Metropolis. As a socially pertinent observation, the film was apt but it was also powerfully inventive in many ways, prescient even, with its futuristic gadgets and its industrial design. I'm not suggesting that Elysium is derivative; on the contrary, I think good sci-fi should have a mirror effect for humanity.
I did spot one brief but definite homage or reference, in the form of Secretary Delacourt's (Jodie Foster) wrist-worn device on which in one scene we could see the words: On My Way - Dick Tracy, anyone?
Both Philip Ivey's industrial design and a Ryan Amon's industrial score decorate Elysium, in which the wealthy have moved 'upstairs' to a man made space station, Elysium, while the poor and hungry, the sick and the downtrodden remain 'downstairs' on a decaying earth. They seem to be making things in factories that are intended to benefit the inhabitants of Elysium, whether weapons or vehicles or amazing medical machines that heal everything painlessly and immediately. The space station is just 19 minutes from earth via space shuttles; close enough to exert power without sharing the bad air and atmosphere.
It's on one of those production lines that Matt Damon's Max is working when an accident almost kills him. A chain of events leads him to join the rebels who are intent on changing the power structure, giving all humans on earth citizenship of Elysium and thus access to medication and other valuable benefits - like decent sanitation and food.
This revolutionary drive is at the film's heart, with the wealthy and powerful portrayed on the evil side of bland, appealing to our humanity in manipulative and simplistic good v bad terms, allowing for none of the nuance of the human condition.
From the striking, technically marvellous opening scene we are reminded this is a film by Neill Blomkamp who made District 9. An aerial view of a city gone to seed, overcrowded apartment blocks sprouting struggling weeds, rubble filled streets and bedraggled people. A classic case of a picture being worth a thousand words.
Although it's a rather obvious device, the relationship of Max's childhood best friend Frey (Alice Braga as the adult) provides the film its emotional payload, which seduces us to accept the rather illogical and stilted premise, adding Frey's 10 year old daughter into the emotive mix. It's only after the credits have rolled that we might say to ourselves, 'Wait a minute ...'
Otherwise, it is very much a film of weapons, gadgets, physical violence and space age travel, Elysium still relies for its success on the performances, and especially on Matt Damon's, and on that of his nemesis, the mercenary with attitude, Kruger, played with ferocious intensity (and a feral South African accent) by Sharlto Copley.
The bad news here is that Copley's heavy accent, coupled with MTV sound mixing (too much bass on dialogue, too heavy-handed with the M&E track) makes almost everything he says indecipherable. And that applies to quite a bit of other dialogue, too. The MTV fashion in hand held camera is also given a work-out, and in a film that gets so much right, these two errors of judgment stand out ... and irritate.
It's a curious fact that the quality of audio in audio visual work is more important than the quality of the images. But above all, story is even more important, and at least this story (if a little long winded) gets it all right. And for Australians in the midst of an extended tussle with the challenges of asylum seeker boats looking for sanctuary, the opening sequences will be horribly relevant.
Review by Louise Keller:
With the current focus on boat people and illegal entry into Australia, it is easy to find relevance in Neill Blomkamp's sci-fi thriller Elysium, in which non authorised residents of the elitist man-made wheel-shaped space-station are kept at bay by blasting their shuttles into smithereens. Blomkamp, whose 2009 District 9 raised great expectations for the South African born filmmaker, has penned a great tale, allowing the storytelling to blossom first, before bullets pelt, action kicks in and special effects dazzle the economically apocalyptic landscape. The contrast between a desecrated, imagined 22nd Century LA and the manicured perfection of Elysium just 19 minutes away could not be greater, and it is this establishment in the opening sequences setting up the premise that allows the story to take flight.
If you are tired of speaking to voice-robots on the phone, wait until you are confronted by the life-size robots programmed to keep you in your place should you deviate from the strict rules and guidelines set for the blue-collar masses, whose daily existence is a painful struggle for survival. This is the environment in which Matt Damon's Max lives, another world away from the life on Elysium to which he aspired years ago as a child and where ill-health can be remedied in the time it takes for a quick technology download. It is Max's accidental exposure to radiation that propels the narrative, prompting the anti-hero to be painfully hooked up into a robotic frame that allows sensitive brain data to be downloaded directly into his brain.
From Liberace's gay lover in Behind the Candelabra to an apocalyptic warrior is simply in a day's work for Matt Damon, and here he retains his sense of decency as he punches, kicks and shoots heavy artillery in what begins as a quest for survival and ends as a mission to save the world. Alice Braga is a welcome and attractive source of femininity as Frey, Max's love interest. Both Frey and Max have compelling reasons to aspire to go to Elysium for healing purposes.
Rip-roaring colourful characters add the film's energy source as they forge the dynamic. There's Wagner Moura, as the underground gangster Spider who pushes the envelope without fear of consequence, po-faced William Fichtner as the Armadyne Corporation's dastardly CEO and Diego Luna as Max's loyal friend Julio. Sharlto Copley from District 9 is a vivid larger-than-life character as Kruger, the rogue sleeper agent stationed on Earth with a licence to kill and be shrill and whose broad South African accent and manic expression works in his favour. By sheer contrast, Jodie Foster's Delacourt, Elysium's elegant designer-clad Secretary of State and the symbol of perfection, is brittle to the core - from her clipped delivery to her ambitious, heartless aspirations.
We sense there is genuine risk in the action sequences as grenades are thrown, bullets ricochet and chaos rules. I like the scene of a facial reconstruction in the wake of an exploded granade - thanks to the miraculous technology on Elysium. Ah the wonders of digital special effects. The violence is graphic although it is always in the context of the narrative. The story's resolution may be open to criticism (at least on grounds of practicality) but there is ample entertainment value in this sci-fi tale with star power, whose filmic references are as diverse as Metropolis and Mad Max.
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SHARLTO COPLEY INTERVIEW
CAST: Matt Damon, Jodie Foster, William Fichtner, Sharlto Copley, Alice Braga, Talisa Soto, Diego Luna, Michael Shanks, Carly Pope, Jared Keeso, Faran Tahir
PRODUCER: Simon Kinberg
DIRECTOR: Neill Blomkamp
SCRIPT: Neill Blomkamp
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Trent Opaloch
EDITOR: Julian Clarke, Lee Smith
MUSIC: Ryan Amon
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Philip Ivey
RUNNING TIME: 109 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Sony
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: August 15, 2013