A mix of emotions comes over me when I see an underestimated actor delivering a truly brilliant performance. I feel awe at the scope of their talent. I feel curious because I want to see more of their work in the future and from the past. I also feel frustrated because I know that despite the brilliance, they are going to be passed over for Oscar consideration for many years to come. Such is the case with the astounding performance delivered by Sam Rockwell in his latest film Moon.
Rockwellâ€™s performance is the highlight of the otherwise average science fiction thriller from newcomer Duncan Jones. The screenplay has more craters in it than the surface of the Moon, but that mostly does not distract from the brilliant central performance from Rockwell, and creative direction from Jones.
Moon takes place in the near future, where the worldâ€™s energy crisis has been solved by helium-3, a substance that is harnessed through lunar rocks that are heated by the sun. Machines have taken over the jobs of humans and only one employee is required to man the Moon-based station where the helium-3 is retrieved. Unlike most sci-fi films, the man in space is no scientist, but a blue-collar, maintenance type named Sam Bell. Sam goes about his duties collecting and shipping the energy in a series of tasks that seem to be mindless for him, as he works through his three year contract on the Moon.
Accompanying Sam is an artificially intelligent computer named GERTY, a clear reference to the HAL 9000 from Kubrickâ€™s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Contrary to the trend of AI computers in movies, GERTY is not evil. In fact he seems to be the only character that is on Samâ€™s side. It soon becomes apparent that Lunar Industries is as corrupt and amoral as the oil companies today and Sam finds that he is the center of a conspiracy. The world he knows, the 3-year mission, and the family back home might all be a lie. Even more disturbing is when he learns that he is not alone on the Moon.
It is impossible to get more detailed into the premise without giving too much away and the story is something that deserves to be discovered on its own.
Unlike most science fiction films that emphasize the visceral over the cerebral, Moon is all about the mind. The futuristic computers, spacecrafts, and other gizmos are intentionally designed to look like the standard space film set pieces, so that they do not distract from what the movie is really about. The emphasis is on the solidarity of being millions of miles from the nearest human. The isolation gives Sam an edginess that is rather unnerving, as the audience never really knows what is going on in his head, and how much of what we see is real.
Sam Rockwellâ€™s performance is something that has never really been seen before. He manages to play both the protagonist and the foil with a great sense of truth. His dialogue is completely natural despite the fact that for most of the film he is talking to himself. Each of the personas that he creates have the same mind, but come from different points in time and have different desires and motivations. Rockwell gives the characters life in a way that few other actors could have pulled off.
Director Duncan Jones has good instincts for an emerging filmmaker, but he also makes a lot of rookie mistakes. The film has a lot of great ideas, but they arenâ€™t thoroughly established. At the end of the film the audience and the characters are essentially left hanging with too many unanswered questions and unsolved problems.