District 9’s Neill Blomkamp envisions a dark future in Elysium

by Mark Burger

Writer/director Neill Blomkamp, who scored big with his 2009 debut feature District 9, encores with Elysium , another science-fiction saga that enhances its action and special effects with allegorical metaphors that are occasionally obvious but refreshing all the same. Not only does Blomkamp know the genre, he respects it.

By the mid-22 nd century, much of Earth has been ravaged by war, famine and disease. Those of affluence and power high-tailed it to Elysium, a rotating, state-of-the-art space station where the technology is so advanced that fatal diseases can (almost) instantly be cured and where the residents live in luxury.

The rest of humanity remains on Earth, which doesn’t appear so far removed from current-day Earth except it’s dustier and dirtier. There are those, like blue-collar ex-con everyman Max (Matt Damon), who desperately try to save enough money to go to Elysium, and there are those of a more anarchistic bent, determined to somehow bring parity to the people. If that means bringing Elysium down, so be it.

When Max suffers a fatal dose of radiation, he has nothing to lose and becomes the human implement by which revolution can be achieved — a notion that doesn’t sit well with Delacourt (a tight-lipped Jodie Foster), who maintains Elysium’s heretofore impenetrable security by means fair and (very much) foul. The buff, tough and tattooed Damon brings an earthy everyman sensibility to his role, combining strength, desperation and heart. Foster, whom it’s always nice to see, doesn’t have too much time on screen as the devious Delacourt, and she’s no match — no one is, really — for Sharlto Copley’s wicked turn as Delacourt’s hatchet man Kruger, who ranks as one of the year’s most memorable screen heavies.

Alice Braga, Diego Luna, William Fichtner (very funny as a fussy corporate slimeball) and Wagner Moura (very good as a grubby opportunist who becomes heroic almost in spite of himself) round out a solid cast, and each one is given something of consequence to do in Blomkamp’s script. They’re not just figures in the futuristic landscape.

The film’s third act occasionally overstates its case — the flashbacks tend to slow momentum — but Blomkamp has delivered a well-realized, well-acted effort that generally steers clear of contrivance. The film’s point of view makes about its fictional society has some resemblance to our contemporary society. There’s a message within the narrative framework, but it doesn’t intrude upon its primary goal to entertain, which it does.

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