© 2009 Ray Wong
Hard science fiction films are more and more rare these days. Like David Boyle's Sunshine, Moon is true sci-fi to the core with a great mystery and suspense.
Sam (Sam Rockwell) is an astronaut stationed on the Moon. He has a three-year contract with Lunar Industry to harvest Helium-3, a pure and clean energy that would power much of the Earth. His job is to monitor the harvest and ship the He3 back to Earth periodically. His only companion is GERTY, an artificial-intelligence computer that assists his day-to-day needs and well-being. There is also no direct communication link between Earth and the Moon, so all Sam gets are periodic recordings from his wife, Tess (Dominique McElligott), and infant daughter.
At the end of his three-year stint, Sam is suffering from severe cabin fever. He's lonely, and he just wants to go home. He starts to see and imagine things. With two weeks left to go, Sam has an accident with one of the mechanical harvesters. Then he wakes up at the infirmary, weak and confused. GERTY tells him the rescue crew onboard of Eliza will arrive from Earth in a few days to clean up after the accident. GERTY is instructed by the company to forbid Sam from leaving the station.
After the recuperation, Sam defies the order and takes an unauthorized trip to the broken harvester. When he gets there, he makes an astounding discovery which places doubt on his sanity and identity. He begins to question the company, his purpose, his family and the reality surrounding him, which also makes him want to return to Earth with greater urgency.
Sam Rockwell (Frost/Nixon) is an interesting choice to play the astronaut. For the most part of the film, Rockwell is the only actor on screen. He has a tremendous challenge acting not only on his own against the futuristic sets and green screens, but also against himself in various situations in which he has to convey confusion, loneliness, trauma, doubts and a wide range of emotions. The entire film rests on him, and Rockwell is phenomenal.
Kevin Spacey (21) provides the voice for the only other major character: GERTY the computer. There's a HAL-like quality to Spacey's calm, collected voice, and one suspects GERTY would also turn sinister as HAL did in 2001: Space Odyssey. The supporting cast has very minor roles in the storytelling, merely to support Sam's character. Dominique McElligott (Dark Floors) has a few emotional scenes in "recorded" messages that may shed some light into Sam's relationship with her and his predicaments. Matt Berry (The Devil's Chair) and Benedict Wong (Sunshine) have small roles as the company men who may have darker purposes than Sam realizes.
The screenplay by writer-director Duncan Jones (Whistle) and Nathan Parker (Blitz) is suspenseful from the first frame. The story starts slowly, introducing us to Sam and the situations and letting us experience Sam's isolation and loneliness. At the same time, the story is revealing important information in bits and pieces, urging the audiences to pay attention and figure things out. The plot slowly escalates to the inciting incidents when Sam's belief system starts to unravel. Duncan plays his cards close to his chest, and by the time the important plot twist happens, we're rewarded by an appreciation of how well the plot is put together and how Duncan has taken his time to develop his character, build the suspense and conflicts, and reveal information as necessary. And the audiences are rewarded for their patience.
For its low budget, Moon has a great science fiction look and feel. The sets are minimalist and the special effects are old school (what with models, composites, green screens, etc.) The design of GERTY is a nice touch: it is both high-tech and accessible at the same time. The musical score by Clint Mansell (The Wrestler) is atmospheric and complementary. The film also boasts some of the best "twin" effects (I wouldn't spoil the movie by going into details). At times, the effects are so well done that they do somehow distract me from the story, because I become so fascinated by the "how did they do that?"
Duncan's pacing is purposefully slow which, in my opinion, enhances the experience. Like the slow reveals of The Sixth Sense, the mystery and suspense build consistently to a crescendo in the final act and the tension is palpable. Duncan has done a great job putting it all together.
Moon truly is an exceptional science fiction gem that is becoming more rare in cinema. It is smart, suspenseful, and emotional. For the pure science fiction aficionados and thinking audiences, the movie will likely send them to the Moon.
Stars: Sam Rockwell, Kevin Spacey, Dominique McElligott, Kaya Scodelario, Matt Berry, Benedict Wong
Director: Duncan Jones
Writers: Duncan Jones, Nathan Parker
MPAA Rating: R for language
Running Time: 97 Minutes
Script – 9
Performance – 9
Direction – 9
Cinematography – 8
Editing – 8
Production – 8
Total – 8.3 out of 10