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Michael Jennings (Ben Affleck) is a `reverse engineer': a scientist who purchases the competition's products, breaks them down, then sells their secrets to the highest bidder. As a condition of his employment, Jennings must undergo a voluntary mind erasure to protect the interested parties. When an old friend (Aaron Eckhart) offers Jennings a huge paycheck for three years of his life, the engineer takes him up on the offer. After his job is completed, he is back to square one. But things are different. The money isn't in the bank, he has latent memories of a relationship and all that is left to help him out with answers is an envelope containing 20 items that will provide him with clues about the missing span of time. With the assistance of a co-worker (Uma Thurman) with whom he had the relationship that he cannot recall, Jennings must piece his life back together before he is caught, and the fruit of his three-year labour gets a chance to destroy the world.

The great thing about the early part of the film is that the viewer is caught in the same unknowing state as Jennings, not knowing what the invention is how to make use of the 20 items in the envelope and merely catching glimpses of latent memories. Many films on the other hand give the whole storyline away the audience while hiding it only from the main character. In these cases the audience is often frustrated by the stupidity of the protagonist for not ‘getting it’. The film successfully had the audience thinking and wondering what this invention could have been, what its purpose was and how Jennings was going to use the 20 seemingly mundane objects to get out of danger. The moment of realisation came when Jennings matched the numbers on the snippet of paper to the winning lotto numbers.

I was quite nonchalant about going to see this film, merely going in order to be sociable. I didn’t have any previous knowledge of the storyline or plot of the film which is unusual since I almost always know at least the premise or tag-line of a film before I see it (unless I have assiduously avoided all trailers as I did for the second and final instalments of both Lord of the Rings and The Matrix). I had heard that Jonathan Ross (and others who are against Ben Affleck as an actor maybe owing to his last screen outing Gigli) gave the film no-so-good reviews but my indifference was unmovable. My first impression of the film was that it was copying the Matrix albeit due to the horizontal, blue letter-rain effect during the opening credits. The Matrix now takes up such a prominent place in my consciousness that I even thought I saw the vertical, green letter-rain effect in the sky while Jennings was getting out of the helicopter (I was not the only one that noticed this though)! I have to start training myself now not to compare every sci-fi, action thriller to the Matrix.

My next impression upon seeing the three-dimensional A-Life screen and the Minority Report style 3D computer interface, was that this was going to be a gadget driven storyline, trying to copy Minority Report but without the intriguing, thought provoking plot to go with it. Then when it was discovered that the main character Michael Jennings had lost his memory, my mind immediately harked back to Bourne Identity. Oh, the folly of watching a film with preconceived ideas in your head!

It wasn’t a brilliant film, paralleling the likes of the original Matrix and the LOTR trilogy, but it was a good film, thoroughly enjoyable. At times it had unexpected epic repercussions i.e. the Third World War, whole American cities destroyed, and moral questions (if we could know our own future, would it help us or harm us?), which was a slightly different angle on time-viewing than that of Minority Report. Although it has a similar premise to Bourne Identity, in my opinion, it matches that film in action, but surpasses it in mystery.

Essay Submitted 2 February 2004

by Dorayaki


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