Reminiscence, directed by Westworld’s Lisa Joy, is an imperfect film. It’s got beautiful cinematography, intelligent production design, and a near-flung science fiction future where I wouldn’t want to live, but where I would definitely spend more cinematic time. The world-building in this film is quite something, reminiscent (ha) of the future version of our world that Joy and Jonathan Nolan built for Westworld’s season three, which I quite enjoyed.
Hugh Jackman (as Nick Bannister) gets his expectations majorly toyed with in the noir memory-thriller Reminiscence. They’re toyed with by his paramour, Mae (an enchanting Rebecca Ferguson), who may or may not be a menace to society. Watts (a sparky Thandiwe Newton), his loyal second, tries her hardest to get him to wake up and see reality, but Nick’s in too deep from the start, in a world where you can drown your sorrows in your memories, or wring every drop out of them in a mad chase. Reminiscence is a part of Warner Media’s scheme to release films in theatres and on HBO Max simultaneously, and it might be another big gamble.
There are some less enjoyable moments of Reminiscence, though; the dialogue can be clunky and too on-the-nose for a film that likes to play with noir tropes, if not follow through on them. This isn’t a pure noir, and there’s no reason for such classic, bordering on cliché, noir-style dialogue. The voiceover by Nick might also not be necessary, as it gives a lot away which is better shown, and most of what is slotted into the VO is often displayed on the screen at some point.
Hugh Jackman also seems miscast for the film; he’s so darned wholesome and earnest, that it’s hard to see him as jaded. The film required a Bogart type, while Jackman’s always been more of a Fred MacMurray to me. The key to Jackman’s Wolverine was less that he was hard-boiled, and more that he was hopeful for a better future while being growly-voiced and traumatized. Nick’s more of a tough guy with little hope, especially considering his background, which is as a former interrogator for the military, where many of his actions bordered on torture. Jackman does his best, but he’s outplayed by the more cynical figures in the film, especially Ferguson and Newton, who play women that aren’t seen a lot on film, more on TV.
This is a hard world, where people submerge themselves into a tank to engage with memories to avoid their climate change-wracked planet. This is not a fun film. But it’s a film about what our world could be, or will be if we don’t try harder, without being preachy at all. It’s also a meditation on memory, and how we can get trapped in an endless cycle of reliving the past. It’s a film, which, ironically, serves as a reminder, of what we serve to lose by losing ourselves in an endless feedback loop of…reminiscences.
Reminiscence debuts on theatres and on HBO Max August 20, 2021.