Dark City

Director Alex Proyas is a real visionary. The former music video director proved that he was capable of merging style and substance with his theatrical debut, “The Crow.” He takes that talent even further in “Dark City,” a brainy science-fiction drama that is so dark it goes beyond noir. Working with production designers George Liddle, Patrick Tatopouls, and cinematographer Dariusz Wolski, Proyas has created an alternate universe that is both inviting and foreboding.

Movies serve only two purposes: to mirror life, and to transport us to another time and place. “Dark City” does both, thanks to an intelligent screenplay by Proyas, Lem Dobbs and David Goyer. Picture Kafka meets “Bladerunner” with a touch of Stanley Kubrick and you merely just scratch the surface of this highly original vision. We’re informed that a group of aliens have arrived on Earth after their race started dying off.

They have come to study humans, and have created a city to control their study. Waking up in this world is John Murdoch (Rufus Sewell), whose shattered memory betrays his current state. Finding himself in a cheap motel room with a dead hooker, Murdoch tries to piece together his thoughts, but they’re distant and fuzzy. Did he kill the girl? A phone call from the frantic Dr. Daniel Schreber (Kiefer Sutherland) warns Murdoch to get out of the building before they arrive. They are the Strangers, a group of pasty-skinned aliens who look like they stepped out of a Marilyn Manson video.

They want Murdoch, who has somehow gained the alien’s ability to mentally alter his reality. On the streets, Murdoch aimlessly searches for the truth, his past, and the one woman he believes he truly loved, the lovely Emma (Jennifer Connelly). Hot on his trail are the Strangers and police detective Bumstead, who dresses and talks as if he walked out of an old Humphrey Bogart film. It seems that Murdoch is the suspect in a series of prostitute murders, a fact he can’t recall.

When Murdoch finally catches up with Dr. Schreber, he learns that he and everyone else in the city are test subjects of the aliens, who are trying to tap in to the human soul. How and why they are doing this is one of the film’s secrets, so you won’t learn anymore here. What I will tell you is that Proyas and his crew have created a stunning alternate world where past and present collide, and characters talk and act accordingly.

The filmmakers create total immersion, something that has been sorely missing from most recent cookie-cutter films. “Dark City” is a film that takes chances. It addresses as many questions as it leaves unanswered. It requires the audience to buy into the premise, and does so with imagination instead of a hard-sell.

The film is also creepy. It pushes buttons that are guaranteed to make you squirm in your seat, and does so with giddy delight. “Dark City” won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. It is dark, and in context with the story, very claustrophobic. Things are not always what they seem, and that may confuse people who had to watch “12 Monkeys” more than once. If you’re game, and hungry for a film that will leave you emotionally satisfied, then “Dark City” is a beacon.



Rufus Sewell, William Hurt, Kiefer Sutherland, Jennifer Connelly, Richard O’Brien, Ian Richardson and Colin Friels in a film directed by Alex Proyas. Rated R. 103 Min.


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