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copyright ©1999-2001

flick pick | Dark City 1998
Directed by: Alex Proyas
Written by: Alex Proyas, Lem Dobbs, David S. Goyer
Starring: Rufus Sewell, Kiefer Sutherland, Jennifer Connelly, William Hurt
Language: English
Look for it at the video store under:
Watch it when you’re in the mood for
artsy-fartsy, fantastical, mind-bending 
The critic says: ½/ 5 the rating system explained
Fun factor: ½/5 

Plot synopsis A man wakes up in the bathtub of a dingy hotel room, with a small, bleeding puncture wound in his forehead, and no recollection of what he’s doing there. In the bedroom, he finds a murdered prostitute. A stranger on the telephone, who says he’s a doctor, warns him to get out of there fast. They’re coming to get him. Not that the man knows who "they" are. But a glance out his door confirms their arrival. As he’s making a quick exit from the hotel, the manager calls him by name: "John Murdoch." Murdoch flees into the nightmarish metropolis, taking twists and turns down streets he can’t remember. Slowly, a few key images come back to him: visions of Shell Beach, a woman named Emma. He’s also beginning to suspect that he may be a mass murderer, which means the police must be following him as well. (Sure enough, there’s an Inspector named Bumstead who’s just been assigned to the case, since the previous inspector has gone loony.) But nothing is as it seems in the dark city. And as he makes his way around in an attempt to learn the mysteries of his past, while continuing to dodge his many pursuers, John Murdoch is about to unearth far more than his own secrets. He’s about to discover some frightening truths about the city itself.

Review Sometimes, in life, timing is everything. If I had caught Dark City back in 1998, when it was first released in movie theatres, I may very well have been blown away. But in 1998, as it happens, I was living abroad, which may explain why I’d never even heard of this movie that Ebert proclaimed "a great visionary achievement." So it’s 2001, and I’ve seen both The Matrix (fun!) and The Thirteenth Floor (painful) – plus countless other sci-fi thrillers – and frankly, the plot of Dark City just doesn’t seem all that original anymore (even the way the story’s structured made me think immediately of The Truman Show). There’s the fake city built by an evil alien race in order to use the unsuspecting humans for their own selfish purposes. There’s the Man-Unlike-Other-Men who, by virtue of being able to manipulate this virtual world in the same manner as his oppressors, may be able to liberate the human race. Sound familiar by now? Right. And while this may not be a criticism of the movie itself – after all, it’s not the filmmaker’s fault that I’m now so jaded – there’s no denying that I enjoyed the movie less as a result. Plus, there’s the fact that the acting frequently borders on the wooden. (Worst of all is Kiefer Sutherland, who, as the mysterious doctor, chooses to deliver all … his lines … in short- … breathed gasps.) Still, though Dark City doesn’t work for me as thought-provoking sci-fi, it does succeed as a very unusual slant on the film noir genre. The dark moodiness, the mystery, the ambience: it sucks you in. And with its eerie, creepy, exquisite world of slivered light permeating inky black shadow, Dark City’s an undeniable 12-course, gourmet banquet for the eyes.—reviewed by Yee-Fan Sun

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