Directed By Joseph Kosinski
Starring – Chris Hemsworth, Miles Teller, Jurnee Smolett
The Plot – Set in the near future, when convicts are offered the chance to volunteer as medical subjects in hopes of shortening their sentences. When one prisoner (Teller) finds himself the test patient for a new pharmaceutical capable of generating feelings of love, he begins questioning the reality of his emotions and sets out to discover the truth.
Rated R for violent content, adult language and sexual content
Fresh off of the success of “Top Gun: Maverick”, Kosinski constructs a contained narrative with a unique tonal approach to the familiarity of science fiction ideals that at least on the surface level conjures something intriguingly evocative of the literary source material it pulls so effortlessly from. In doing such, Kosinski’s distinct vision of stripped-down set designs, contrasting hues in lighting schemes, and a freshly fierce yacht rock soundtrack creates a contradicting upbeat energy that all but mirrors the gloomy despair in the corresponding atmosphere that grows all the more revealing with each riveting turn of meaningful exposition to grow the discomfort. This is further supplanted not only in the romantic dynamic in chemistry between Teller and Smolett, offering a warmth of radiance on the otherwise bleak surroundings, but also in the upbeat editing, whose consistency in energy elicits a radiance of personality with all hands of production firmly on board. Likewise, Kosinski’s meticulous movements of the lens and the spell-binding cinematography from Claudio Miranda transfixes with a versatile variety of tangible schemes meant to convey immersive consciousness into the feelings of each drug the inmates experience. Close ups of clouds and flowers are given a radiant almost poetic quality to convey appreciation, while other prisoners take on a ravishing appearance in moments of mutual but manipulated attraction. There’s also a vivid appeal to the various flashback sequences into Jeff’s fateful night long ago that Kosinski uses to take advantage of transferring momentum and adrenaline to the experience of the audience, in ways so detailed with velocity and singular perspective that put us in the driver’s seat of Jeff’s inescapable regret that has plagued his once prosperous future. This is further carried out with the magnitude of performances from the starring trio, with each attaining scene-stealing instances and bountiful charisma to add to the aforementioned endearing personality of the film’s tonal consistencies. Hemsworth in particular is a breath of therapeutic fresh air as the manifestation of Silicon Valley greed with an unnerving sinister smile conveying the cat who swallowed the canary. Hemsworth’s seedy, slimy sauntering completely captivates each time he invades the screen, with a dancing gliding of confidence to add to the narcissism of the character’s design, to which he gleefully takes advantage of in each dancing groove in and out of frame. Besides Hemsworth, Teller and Smolett charge with capturing the kind of intensity in emotions that adds to the vulnerability of their situations, with the latter’s crippling third act admission articulating the humbling humanity that hangs in the balance of the evolving powerplay.
While the film does supplant more than a few appealing twists early on that engage the audience to faithfully follow the many developments and deep-seeded secrets between the many role reversals of the characters, the film eventually becomes consumed by the necessity of explanation, in a manner that easily resolves the many burning questions of its characters that it pursues with long-winded exposition. Eventually revelations play like flipped switches rather than gradual realizations, with emotional reckonings becoming external rather than reflective, and nuance evaporating the deeper the film dips into all out lunacy. This brings us to the sharpness of the tonal inconsistencies, which initially prescribes a cynical sting to the helplessness of its characters, but eventually dwindles toward completely wiping away the tension and urgency of the film’s climactic moments when it needs something to permanently linger with its audience past the closing credits. It’s a little too sharply directed towards humor, which compromise the honesty and integrity of what’s transpiring on-screen, creating an overhanging juxtaposition between actions and tone that disjoints the execution during its most impactful instances. Beyond this, the direction of the arcs themselves deviate a bit too closely towards conventionalism to rob this film of anything uniquely original in the favor of its intriguing plot synopsis. Familiarity and predictability overwhelm the occasion while reminding us of science fiction predecessors that at the very least expanded on the character and sociological study of its material, but here prove difficult in transcending its short story origins with 102 minutes of storytelling that never take inspiration in expanding on the narrative or its corresponding questions about human rights, perception versus reality, and existentialism that solidify it into anything palpable to properly define within the meaning of the film’s intention. Finally, the proof in the pudding of an unrealized concept marinates into the form of a few nagging plot holes that hinder the fantastically dystopian approach to an otherwise contemporary reality. If you can overlook the capabilities of Steve being able to attain an island and inherit prisoners to fill it, you then have to explore how deep the government is involved, a question that becomes troubling the more you learn about Steve and who is involved, during the second half. Beyond this, the medication concept is flawed itself, in which inmates are given mind altering substances, and it resonates and disappears as quickly as the push of a button. It’s hilarious that this is how the screenwriters and producers think drugs work on the human body because a lot of people in the real world would be successfully evading criminal charges, an aspect I wish this film was charged in logic alone.
“Spiderhead” for Kosinski doesn’t quite reach the heights of “Top Gun: Maverick”, but it does conjure up enough substantial style, uniqueness in personality, and flawless performances from an eclectically talented trio to maintain your interests throughout. Though the concept is alluring enough to tickle the science fiction yearning from within, the execution of the script is flawed to a compromising fault, that, like the tragic aspect of its incarcerated convicts, has us the audience wondering what might’ve been had it just taken alternate paths to create something prominent for itself.
My Grade: 5/10 or D