Review of 'Dark City'

dark_city.jpg A man (Rufus Sewell) awakes to find himself in a bathtub filled with water, a spot of blood on his forehead but no memory of how he got there or even who he is. Leaving the bathroom he finds himself in an apartment along wit the body of a prostitute carved with bloody spirals. He flees the scene just as three mysterious bald men dressed in black arrive. Recovering his wallet he discovers he is “John Murdoch” and further investigation shows he has been missing from his wife Emma (Jennifer Connelly) for several weeks. Inspector Frank Bumstead (William Hurt) quickly catches up with the confused John and, despite the incriminating evidence, doubts his guilt. The sinister looking Dr. Daniel Schrebe (Kiefer Sutherland) manages to fill in some gaps in what is going on for John but seems to know more than he is letting on. When John is cornered by the black-dressed men he discovers that he has telepathic abilities and he begins to question the nature of his reality. What exactly is going on in this perpetually dark city and where, inexplicably, no one seems to know how to get to the well-known “Shell Beach”?

A very weird movie that seemed to be released “out of the blue” that seems fairly normal until the Science Fiction aspects become apparent. Keifer Sutherland performs wonderfully as the doctor though William Hurt puts on his typical bland performance though here it seems oddly apt, suitably brooding. Rufus Sewell comes through extremely well as the confused John Murdoch conveying his uncertainty in his fidgeting manner and perpetually sweating brow.

“Dark City” is set in a sixties-style city things are a bit…odd. As viewers we are just as confused as John as he struggles to make sense of what has happened to him and what exactly is the reality he finds himself in. Heady questions indeed but action is never far away with some spectacular action sequences. “Dark City” could be very much style over substance but here you get both in equal measure, indeed, here there is almost far too much substance that may confuse many viewers – We are not spoon-fed the answers, we have to discover them ourselves just like John and in the end we might just be satisfied.

The musical score by Trevor Jones is memorable and an intrinsic part of what we see on the screen driving the action forward and complementing some incredible visual elements. The majestic orchestration pushes us ever further into the chaos that surrounds John.

Looks and sounds great but “Dark City” may cause many a great deal of confusion requiring the viewer to think rather than be spoon-fed every last detail. I believe this to be one of the best Science Fiction films ever.

Note that there is a “Director's Cut” which is the recommended version of the film as it much more fully realises Proyas' vision by removing some of the “dumbing down” elements he was forced by the studio to introduce on release and adding scenes that expand our understanding of the core characters. The whole ends up making much more sense.

Rating: “Nearly perfect, but not quite”

Review Date: 2020-01-05

Directed by: Alex Proyas

Studio: New Line Platinum Series

Year: 1998

Length: 96 minutes

Genre: Science Fiction