By Nikolas Grozdanovic

Where did she go? Why did she leave? People don’t just disappear. These are the questions and thoughts that obsessively swirl in the mind of Nick Bannister (Hugh Jackman). The she in question is Mae (Rebecca Ferguson), a mysterious redhead that walked into Nick’s life and changed it forever. It’s a solid epicentre for any story, a man seeking reassurance and internal retribution after a woman he’s fallen in love with disappears. But unlike the city Reminiscence takes place in, this epicenter holds very little water. What’s more, the fluffy dialogue, clunky world-building and disjointed narrative end up acting like a weak dam that breaks somewhere around the middle, letting any contained interest up until that point wash away almost completely.

Taking place sometime in the (presumably) not-too-distant future, the world of Reminiscence looks instantly interesting. A half-submerged Miami, with flooded streets everywhere you walk in your waterproof boots, and water boat taxis that take you from A to B. It’s all because of some apocalyptic climate disaster, and since the end of a war that we never learn enough about to fully understand, people usually come out at night and sleep during the day to avoid the heat. Nick is a veteran of this war, and in this wet new world has found a vocation as a cerebral private investigator. That is, he uses a holographic machine to navigate through people’s memories and help them discover stuff about themselves from their past, or just relive their fondest memories over and over again. His partner Watts (Thandiwe Newton), another war vet, doesn’t take it as seriously as he does and prefers to look for her vocation at the bottom of any whiskey bottle she can grab. You guessed it, she’s the best character in the film.

In walks Mae one night, a singer at a night bar in the Sunken Coast, a borough that ends up being the film’s most beautiful set piece. Nick and Mae have that instant detective-femme fatale connection so often seen in classic film noirs, while Watts smirks and rolls her eyes like a good sidekick. Nick and Mae fall in love, and then Mae just disappears without a word. Where did she go? Why did she leave? People don’t just disappear. Nick becomes completely obsessed to find the answer, which leads him down a path full of crime, sleazy barons, corrupt police cops and terrible accents.

This is Lisa Joy’s full feature directorial debut, but thanks to her work on the fantastic HBO show Westworld (which she co-created with husband Jonathan Nolan), you’d think her first film project would’ve had more narrative grandeur. Sadly, Reminiscence ends up just suffering from the delusions. The world around it is so fascinating and so visually compelling – from the holographic machine that Nick uses on paper to the half-submerged exteriors of the Sunken Coast. The idea of fusing the futuristic genre of sci-fi with the classic film noir from the black-and-white era is full of intrigue and promise. But this is far from the leagues of films like Blade Runner 2049 – a film that’s in a similar hybrid past-future genre but ends up keeping its promise by making the story’s emotional core just as grandiose as the exotic environment it takes place in.

The actors do what they can with the dialogue, but when you have to say lines like “Memories are like perfume, better in small doses” – even over voice over in Hugh Jackman’s voice – they can’t share too much of the blame. From clever cinematic tricks that quickly turn into gimmicks, to lose introductions of fictious drugs that end up being key character-building blocks (Baca? What’s that even meant to be?), to terribly choreographed action scenes – by the time we get to the big climax and the big reveal, I just didn’t care anymore. There’s no real emotional weight to any of it.

That said, the idea of a memory detective looking for clues by digging into people’s minds is compelling enough to make you see it through the end. Add to that Paul Cameron’s gritty cinematography (his impressive resume includes Man on Fire and Collateral), Newton’s cynical Watts, and Nick’s very universal and relatable predicament of having something desperately in need of being understood haunting his mind, and Reminiscence is not a complete waste of time.

 

DIRECTED BY Lisa Joy

STARRING Hugh Jackman, Thandiwe Newton, Rebecca Ferguson, Cliff Curtis

MYSTERY, SCI-FI

USA 2021