Hugh Jackman for most is still defined by his role as wolverine in the X-Men films, but chances are if you’ve looked at the Australian actor’s filmography you’ll realize there’s a lot more to his acting range than brooding tortured superheroes (see, Swordfish and Les Miserables for reference). Reminiscence continues in that tradition, giving a stellar performance from Jackman and his supporting cast in a sci-fi future-based flick that has a lot of intriguing concepts, even if it doesn’t always live up to them. Allow us to explain in the review below.
Directed by Lisa Joy , Reminiscence stars Jackman as Nick Bannister , a former military operative who lives in an extremely flooded Miami ravaged by climate change and specializes in the business of allowing people to relive their memories in dream sequences with his partner and fellow veteran Emily “Watts” Sanders played by the Thandiwe Newton. In a future that seems hopeless without much to look forward to, Nick’s business is incredibly lucrative as most people prefer to revisit the past and live in it as much as possible. The nature of Nick’s device however, makes him often get involved with law enforcement and interrogation cases as well, and through this he gets tangled in a mess involving drugs, the extreme caste system in said apocalyptic future and a woman he can’t help but fall for. The premise itself is incredibly engaging, and Joy’s experience having worked on shows like Westworld is on full display, showing how humans and human emotion would react to a world where technology and our collective mistakes as a race come to meet us face to face or worse yet warp our perception of reality. It makes an intriguing setting to set up the noir crime drama that the film is, delving into concepts seen in movies like inception and blade runner.
There’s definitely a temptation to compare Reminiscence to Inception as well, as both involve machines that involve people’s dreams and tamper with the dreams people have. However, while Inception leans hard into people essentially inserting thoughts into your head through their subconscious, Reminiscence instead focuses on the technology not having that ability, but instead highlights just how much people can be stuck in their pasts, unable to move on. It’s almost a metacommentary on human behavior in our current generation as well, where we’re constantly stuck in reminiscing about decades past, with the media around us following suit and rebooting shows, movies, even remixing music from our youth just so we accept something because it reminds us of something we loved in our past. The climate change setting with coastal cities being flooded is also interesting enough both for how it feels more plausible, but also simply because it gives a lot of the characters unique backstory almost all bound by struggle. While Nick and Watts seem to suffer from the guilt that comes with being a soldier during a time where they were seemingly used to oppress people, characters like Daniel Wu’s Saint Joe are defined by how they’ve struggled to become kingpins in a time determined by simply surviving whichever way they could.
Despite it being a movie with impressive visuals and a premise that’s based on special effects, character work is the larger core of Reminiscence, and while none of these characters are specifically ground-breaking, they’re e all relatable and engaging simply because of the performances of the cast on display. Jackman pulls another stellar performance, playing Nick as not a big , intimidating alpha as tends to be expected but rather a man defined more by loss, desperation and an unrelenting drive to find the woman he fell in love with, Mae, played by the ever-enchanting Rebecca Ferguson. What’s most interesting however is that as captivating as Nick can be in his most emotional moments, he’s arguably the least interesting character in the headlining cast.
Thandiwe Newton’s Watts is by far the most interesting understated character in the film, being shown to be the dangerous, capable and tactical half of their pairing. She is the highlight of one of the film’s standout action scenes but not just because she’s a complete pro in it , but more of her outlook towards violence, death, and her outlook towards enemies in a fight. Arguably more captivating however is Mae, who Rebecca Ferguson plays in a manner that makes her less of person but more of an embodiment of a fantasy, something that’s fitting considering Nick essentially chases after her the way one pursues a long-lost dream, with no hope of attaining or achieving it but a seemingly endless supply of energy to go after it, even if it destroys everything else in their life. Even Daniel Wu’s Saint Joe steals the scenes he’s in almost effortlessly and it all adds to the feel of this movie and this world feeling lived in, so much so that you can’t help but buy the narrations of Jackman as he states how hopeless this world is.
The movie also takes a slightly indirect approach to its storytelling, definitely tapping on a similar style to the one Lisa Joy used in Westworld, with character details and important beats being revealed as the story goes, as well as explaining the world around it the same way. It works for those used to Joy’s previous work, but it does slightly make one have to always remember just how much they need to listen to every bit of dialogue in the movie.
Not the biggest complaint when essentially what you have is a crime noir film just set in the future, but it does make one always feel like they have a few details they’re keeping on their short-term memory to make sure they catch every reference and character referenced. In that same vein, for a movie that leads with quite a bit of mystery and unravels as it continues, there’s no exact big reveal at the end, or rather the one that’s there isn’t as big as the movie probably would like it to be. It makes sense in the context of Jackman’s Nick needing catharsis, but it’s less of a big shock as it is an acceptable avenue that probably can make more audiences feel good about the end product. There is also the element of the caste system in the movie and the common man suffering that feels like it’s forced to conclude in a feel-good manner, especially considering it wasn’t directly connected to the direct struggles of Nick until in the final act. However, the overall journey that the film takes you on is worth the trip. If anything it’s world leaves you wanting to explore it more, and maybe in some way it could be. For now, however, Reminiscence and it’s world give a thought-provoking and interesting concepts that we hope are somehow explored more in future.