Disctrict 9 (2009)

Sharlto Copley (Wikus Van De Merwe), Vanessa Haywood (Tania Van De Merwe), Louis Minnaar (Piet Smit)

Directed by Neill Blomkamp

IMDB: An extraterrestrial race forced to live in slum-like conditions on Earth suddenly finds a kindred spirit in a government agent that is exposed to their biotechnology.

Keven and I went to see this movie when we had the afternoon off a few weeks ago. It had been on my radar as a movie that might interest us if the ratings were good. Turns out they were phenomenal, so we were pretty psyched. Also turns out that the reviews were right.

The director, a native South African, wrote, produced and directed the short version of this concept, called "Alive in Joburg," that lasted only six minutes. Peter Jackson saw it and loved it, then served as the executive producer to help get the thing made into a full-length feature. Blomkamp did so on a shoestring budget of just over $30 million. Quite amazing considering what he came up with, and how much CGI is involved. And I'm guessing no one will take bets that his next feature will be produced for so little money. This is a career-making debut.

I don't think I knew where the story was going until about two thirds of the way in. Only then did I have an inkling of what might happen. I was a good third of the way and before I even knew what the plot was and which characters might wind up heroes--if any. The opening is so original and so refreshing that I was able to simply sit back and let the filmmakerstake me where he wished.

The documentary-style opening was useful not only in setting up this original plot line--I take that back; it's not so much original as presented in an original way--but also in acclimating my ears to the actors' various South African dialects and accents. What a gorgeous tapestry of voices, most of which Western audiences will have never heard! This introduction helped ease us into Johannesburg in an alternative 21st century, the landscape of which added an extra heaping spoonful of fresh difference to the film.

I want to briefly mention Sharlto Copley. This was his first full-length feature, and he hadn't acted at all until his small role in "Joburg." What's more, the Afrikaans accent he uses is not his own. He's more of an English South African in real life. His performance was a complex blend of slick charming, disgusting insecurity, failed heroism, and (nearly) justifiable cowardice. Outside of Rorschach in Watchmen, you will not find a more difficult hero in movies this year.

District 9 is an obvious analogy to Apartheid. Neill Blomkamp will turn 30 this month, which meant he was only 11 years old when Nelson Mandela was freed from prison. Of course, then, he was not a perpetrator of apartheid policies, but like a German child growing up in the wake of World War II, he would have had to come to terms with the recent, difficult history of his nation. This film is a testament to his attempt to come to grips with it all, in a way that is subtle, effective, intriguing, and bold.

Our only quibble was the fairly obvious sequel baiting, but that was a minor concern overall, and I would likely see any sequel that Blomkamp created. In the meantime, I recommend District 9 to anyone who enjoys good sci-fi, and beyond that, to anyone who enjoys good cinematic storytelling.

1 comment:

Doug said...

Ooh, great review, Carrie! Only thing is, I think the IMDB "snapshot" gives away too much IMO. I didn't mind the sequel baiting . . . I really hope they do continue this story.