I really enjoyed Elysium which I caught earlier today. The title refers to the outer space habitat populated only by the wealthy elite. They enjoy luxurious living conditions that resemble those previously found on Earth, except that now in the year 2154, Earth is totally ravaged and polluted and fit only for the poor masses, and they are kept there with the use of a robot police force. The privileged have retreated to live in their space station with its sprawling mansions and lawns. A distinct feature of their households is a sleek MRI scanner-type pod that cures any disease, which is what protagonist Max desperately needs to get to after an accident at the factory where he works.
Matt Damon is excellent as the lead Max here. He’s a great actor and brings out layers in his characters when given roles he could flesh out, like this one which he makes into much more than just ‘action hero’. I like this kind of leading man in action movies: more ordinary guy living an ordinary existence rather than some suave or ultra-butch superfit guy with fantastic fighting skills. Matt plays the former really well. Even when he was the spy Jason Bourne in the Bourne trilogy, he had this winsome guy-next-door quality. Even a spy character so well-trained that he could elude his masters came across as somewhat warm and grounded.
It’s great that a movie with an interesting lead also has an interesting and unconventional villain character. The über-talented Jodie Foster plays Delacourt, the defense secretary of Elysium, and was as fun to watch as other actresses in action-movie-villain roles such as Joan Allen in Death Race (2008) and Charlotte Rampling in (many movies including) Babylon A.D. (2008). Delacourt is evil alright, but leans more towards ruthless executive than mindless psycho, with her smart suits, sleek hairdo and a pragmatic and no-nonsense attitude. She’s like a real estate agent or CEO type who, in addition to bossing people around and generally being a corporate bitch, had to also blow things up and kill people because it’s just part of her job. There’s some French dialogue in her first appearance, which reminds me of the first time I heard Jodie speak the language so fluently, in the incredibly beautiful French movie A Very Long Engagement (2004). If that’s not impressive already, the American actress also speaks Italian, German and Spanish.
Other memorable perfomers: South African actor with the fantastic name Sharlto Copley as the violent hired killer Kruger, who looks gross and unwashed with bad teeth, yet also hot in a dirty sexy way. Sharlto makes me think of actors like Vincent Cassel and Tim Roth, actors who not only excel in playing villains but inject tons of delicious sex appeal in their evil characters. Then there’s Brazilian actor Wagner Moura who also stands out in his role of Spider, the commander and brains behind the resistance on Earth who could offer Max a way to get to Elysium. The talented and charismatic Mexican actor Diego Luna is terribly underused as the street-smart but sweet and sensitive Julio, Max’s BFF. I wish there were more scenes of him. He’s such a sexy hippie here, so totally adorable.
The production design is breathtaking, especially that of the space station Elysium, as the trailer video above illustrates. I like the movie a lot. It’s a great sci-fi thriller, fast paced with heart-thumping action. The bits of sentimentality sewn in to tug at the heartstrings was a bit eyeroll-inducing, like the little girl with leukemia telling Max a fairytale story about some water hippo and whatever. I should think the living conditions of the people on Earth, (actually we see just Los Angeles, but I guess in this movie it represents the whole planet) and the struggles of Max in his daily life would elicit enough empathy from the audience, so the drama from the sweet poor-thing little girl, and yet another one in a separate scene, this time in crutches even, were totally unnecessary. But it doesn’t spoil the movie much. Still a great one I really enjoyed.