Reminiscence remembers classic noir pictures but rarely becomes its own thing.
Published on August 26, 2021
Rating 2 /5
Reminiscence has a weirdly nostalgic vibe of throwback sci-fi novels that tried to mix noir with cyberpunk. Questions of identity and solving mysteries behind futuristic conspiracies were abound in such books. It would be nice if this aspect could work for such a film because, hey, how often do you see a cyberpunk detective movie? I just wish the direction could match the ambition.
The story takes place in a future where climate change has flooded most of Miami. With little hope for people seeking dry land, many city dwellers have resorted to nostalgia. A special device has been invented that can let somebody experience a memory again. You simply hop in a tube of water with some headgear and find yourself going on a trip through the mind to experience familiar sensations again. The tech has a place for solving crimes but it’s mostly used for the pleasure of those who want to occupy the past.
Operating such a service is the mysterious and gruff Nick (Hugh Jackman) and his assistant Watts (Thandiwe Newton). Both of them served in a war that is not mentioned in detail but there’s clearly an allusion to post-noir pictures taking place after WWII. Further cementing this throwback aspect is the presence of the beautiful woman Mae (Rebecca Ferguson) who strolls into Nick’s business with a problem. At first, her issue was just trying to find her keys. But Nick, instantly smitten with such a woman, peers more into her memory and finds something he may not have been meant to see.
Nick also works alongside the government to use his system of memory revival in cases where testimony needs to be proved or evidence needs to be found. One case he finds himself involved with concerns a greedy landowner that is trying to avoid any scrutiny. Nick gives us the standard detective narration about how such a man is despised by Miami for making the gap between the rich and the poor all the bigger as the sea levels rise. While Nick refuses to delve into the landowner’s mind, he can still peer into the thoughts of those surrounding such a figure.
The film is trying so hard to be post-noir masking as neo-noir, a sentiment that would be clever for matching the themes of wanting to relive the past. All of the hallmarks are there: swanky clubs, a seductress of a lounge singer, a tangled conspiracy, and even a surreal reliving a classic 1950s drama as the doomed populace attempt to cope. We also get a lot of narration from Jackman with plenty of platitudes about being haunted by the past, explaining the world, and what men fear most. There’s at least a pleasing motive for keeping the entire story being set at night as climate change has made the sunlight unbearable.
The problem is that Reminiscence spends so much time trying to craft its bog-standard detective story it forgets to add something extra or clever to its par-for-the-course noir aspects. There’s rarely a moment when we can feel something more for Nick past his typical detective mannerisms of being late, haunted by the past, and cold about the world. Jackman can’t add much to such a role and simply strolls through this story that only feels as though it’s taking advantage of a fraction of its dystopian setting.
Reminiscence remembers classic noir pictures but rarely becomes its own thing. The special effects are great and the setting is quite dense, sure, but you can only attach so many bells and whistles to an uninspired script. The film is a reminder that you can have all the theatrics in the world but it can’t fix a film where the story is so pedestrian.
Mark has been a professional film critic for over five years and a film lover all his life.