Adopting a futuristic setting and applying a noir mentality to its narrative, Westworld co-creator Lisa Joy shows bold, original footing in her debut as a feature filmmaker. She may not always stick the landing, but it’s hard to deny her talent and evident vision with Reminiscence, a mystery thriller at its base that incorporates romance and the occasional action set-piece to keep itself afloat.
In an undisclosed year where the setting of Miami has succumbed to a global catastrophe and is now a nocturnal-acting city floating barely above rising water levels, Joy’s story centres itself around Nick Bannister (an emotionally resonating Hugh Jackman), a private detective of the mind who, with his long-time professional partner Watts (Thandiwe Newton), spearheads a company that trades in nostalgia. It’s a dark, alluring navigation of one’s own mind, and the technology overseen by Nick allows his clients to re-visit an old memory for either their own personal gain or gratification. Nick’s latest client is Mae (Rebecca Ferguson, effortlessly embodying the femme fatale archetype), a sultry lounge singer who appears to simply need Nick’s services in order to locate her lost keys.
It goes without saying that there’s more to Mae than meets the eye, and her reasoning for utilising Nick slowly reveals itself throughout the course of the film’s 116 minute running time. In fact, Mae is so incredibly integral to the overall arc that it’s near impossible to reveal anything further about the state of play in which Joy’s narrative unravels. The narrative itself is one that Joy clearly has passion for, but there’s almost too much on hand that, at times, it feels as if we are seeing episodes of Nick’s investigations as opposed to a singular, cohesive strand; again, though, the eventual amalgamation of all these plots displays Joy’s creative mind.
However one responds to the central mystery surrounding Nick and Mae, and, subsequently, the side arcs that incorporate a more classic detective temperament and the developing love story between Jackman and Ferguson, it’s difficult to not be swept away in the world Joy and her Westworld creative team have innovated here; director of photography Paul Cameron, production designer Howard Cummings, and composer Ramin Djawadi all elevating the sunken Miami coast aesthetic.
With Joy herself personally linked to director Christopher Nolan through her marriage to his brother, screenwriter Jonathan Nolan (who co-penned the scripts to The Dark Knight trilogy and Interstellar), it makes sense that the modernistic take on storytelling be an implement she adheres to. The Nolan stamp is felt, but it certainly isn’t enough to discredit any of Joy’s work herself, with her ideas and creativity billowing above any decorative familiarity felt throughout.
With a little more finetuning on a story that has a cemented core but perhaps a few too many extended side-pieces, Reminiscence could have truly been an event by its very nature. Regardless of any shortcomings or smoothed edits though, Joy’s true talent, her utter embrace of a more original product and her fearlessness in flirting with noir in a manner seemingly long forgotten on screen deserves praise all the same.
THREE STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Reminiscence is screening in Australian theatres from August 19th, 2021, where accessible. It will be released simultaneously in American theatres and digitally on HBO Max on August 20th.