Review: Dark City (1998)

Directed by: Alex Proyas
Starring: Rufus Sewell, Kiefer Sutherland, Jennifer Connelly

John Murdoch has awakened to what most people would classify as a living nightmare: a dead woman lying next to the bed in his hotel room and no recollection of who he is or how he got there. With a local detective hot on his trail and an estranged wife left in the dark about his whereabouts, John must confide in his unstable psychiatrist Dr. Schreber in order to help him rediscover who he really is. As events begin to unfold however, John stumbles upon the existence of a mysterious otherworldly race whose intentions pose a bigger threat than any of the obstacles he was previously faced with.

As with most dystopian science fiction classics, Blade Runner and Brazil notably, there always seems to be an indigenous visual quality that gives the film a boost in either staying true to its source material or having an appropriate impact on the intended audience. Dark City is no exception to this quality, staying painstakingly true to its title via an overly bleak atmosphere and darkness abound. Finding additional solace in the obligatory Big Brother-esque entity, Dark City is made all the more enjoyable by way of the substantial amount of suspense and intrigue it brings about, even if the plot itself isn’t all that original.

As a whole, the script manages to deliver several welcome curveballs that aren’t entirely clichéd and effectively add to the aura of mystery lurking around every corner as John struggles to reclaim his identity. While this remains one of Dark City‘s strong suits throughout its duration, I can’t help but frown upon the overwhelming sense of ambiguity that lingers about until the film’s incredibly satisfying conclusion. Sure, this ambiguity occasionally aids in generating the aforementioned sense of suspense present during the film’s more appealing sequences, but in terms of plot development, I feel it becomes somewhat hindered by this in the long run. All in all though, such a detail is relatively negligible given how fantastic the final moments truly are.

Dark City‘s cast is also stellar, further adding to the film’s appeal. Although Sewell’s efforts as the amnesiac protagonist are very respectable, I still don’t know how I felt about him as the male lead based on how little I’ve seen him elsewhere. Sutherland on the other hand is terrific as the manic Dr. Schreber, as is Hurt as the excessively stubborn, by-the-book Inspector Bumstead. As for Connelly, her involvement isn’t all too important until the film’s latter half, seeing as how it’s very easily overshadowed by more poignant happenings, but her efforts remain noteworthy nonetheless.

To sum it up, Dark City surely isn’t your run-of-the-mill dystopian sci-fi experience. While some plot elements do come off as a tad derivative, the rest of the film manages to remain appealing thanks to a some dazzling visuals, a hefty amount of intrigue and a terrific cast. Even better still is how director Alex Proyas managed to get at least one sleeper hit under his belt before producing garbage in the same vein as Knowing. Very much worth a view.

Rating: 8/10

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