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1 item from 1998

Film review: 'Dark City'

20 February 1998 | The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News | See recent The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News news »

Give "Dark City" full points for audacity.

An ultra-noir, futuristic (from a period vantage point) thriller that stylistically lives up to its murky title, the latest effort from "The Crow" director Alex Proyas is a heady pastiche of German Expressionism and Kafkaesque surrealism, with hefty flourishes of Edward Hopper and Rod Serling added for good measure.

But while the cerebral picture certainly gets a lot of bang for its artistic buck, it fails to connect on a visceral level. That might still be OK as far as its targeted young male graphic comic demo is concerned; they could turn it into a minor cult hit, particularly when "Dark City" sees the light of video.

"Cold Comfort Farm"'s Rufus Sewell has the requisite look for haunted everyman character John Murdoch, who awakens from a bathtub reverie with a severe case of amnesia complicated by the discovery of a mutilated female body in his apartment.

To add to the paranoia factor, Murdoch is not only being pursued by the police (led by the tautly stoical Detective Bumstead (William Hurt), but by a telekinetic cult of ominous beings known as the Strangers (how very Camus) whose physical appearance owes more than a tip of the cloak to F. W. Murnau's "Nosferatu".

It turns out Murdoch happens to be the only resident in his Gotham-type city who remains impervious to the Strangers' mind-controlling, time-stopping, reality-altering abilities and they're determined to find out the reason why with a little help from the weasely, syringe-bearing Doctor Schreber (Kiefer Sutherland).

While the script (credited to Proyas, Lem Dobbs, who, not surprisingly wrote Steve Soderbergh's "Kafka", and David S. Goyer, who penned "The Crow: City of Angels") feels cobbled together from old "Twilight Zone" episodes, it still has its moments. Despite all the weird stuff, the big explanation actually succeeds on its own logical terms far more satisfyingly than, say, "Sphere".

But it's Proyas' take-no-prisoners, visually exhilarating style that leaves the biggest imprint, and that's not exactly welcome news for most of the cast who prove to be no match for the picture's art department of thousands.

England's Sewell's got the wide-eyed paranoia down cold, but the shaky American accent is another story as it is for a number of performers on the Australian shoot. Jennifer Connelly, meanwhile, in the role of the token female/love interest, has the period look but not enough of a commanding presence to leave an alluring mark. Only Sutherland captures the requisite tone with a finely calibrated character turn. His chronically short-of-breath Dr. Schreber is a enigmatic slippery fish who's seen too many Fritz Lang movies.

Technically speaking, a film that has not one but two credited production designers pretty much speaks for itself and the above-ground designs of George Liddle and Underground creations of Patrick Tatopoulos ("Independence Day") speak eye-catching volumes. Some moody, textured camera work from Dariusz Wolski ("Crimson Tide") and a grandly gothic score by the prolific Trevor Jones completely the dizzyingly evocative if wildly derivative picture.


New Line

A Mystery Clock production

An Alex Proyas film

Director: Alex Proyas

Producers: Andrew Mason and Alex Proyas

Screenwriters: Alex Proyas and Lem Dobbs

and David S. Goyer

Story: Alex Proyas

Executive producers: Michael De Luca,

Brian Witten

Director of photography: Dariusz Wolski

Production designers: Patrick Tatopolous,

George Liddle

Editor: Dov Hoenig

Costume designer: Liz Keogh

Music: Trevor Jones



John Murdoch: Rufus Sewell

Dr. Schreber: Kiefer Sutherland

Emma: Jennifer Connelly

Mr Hand: Richard O'Brien

Mr. Book: Ian Richardson

Detective Bumstead: William Hurt

Running time -- 104 minutes

MPAA rating: R


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