If I say too much about The Matrix I risk spoiling your fun when you see it. If I say too little about The Matrix I risk you losing interest in this intriguing and thought provoking film. So, let me say this up front about The Matrix: Don’t Miss The Matrix. This is the best science fiction movie put out so far this year and possibly for the rest of the year.
Neo (Keanu Reeves) is a bland software engineer by day and a daring hacker by night. As of late he’s been getting some strange messages from an unknown source warning him of a danger to his life. The messages come from a man named Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) and are sometimes delivered by a beautiful messenger Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss). From here on, if I say anything else I’ll spoil the twists and turns that the movie goes through. Let’s just say that what you think is real, isn’t.
The Matrix comes from the Wachowski brothers, Andy and Larry. These are the same two that put together the equally brilliant film Bound. Being their second film, I was sure that The Matrix was going to be a solid film but what The Matrix really is surprised me. These two are not just Hollywood hacks; they are two talented moviemakers. What makes the Wachowski brothers so good is their sense of style and atmosphere. If you’ve seen Bound then you’ll know what I mean. With The Matrix they turn the style and atmosphere up a notch. The film is dark, gritty, and dense. Shadows and light are used to the extreme, with shadows lingering and light casting in all sorts of mysterious ways. Actors are lit in ways that attract the eye from one section of the screen to the other, while at other times actors are half hidden in the shadows. The Matrix is more than just a solid film; it is an instant classic.
What makes The Matrix so intriguing is the way that the Wachowski brothers tell the story. Instead of laying the whole story on us at once, they layer it on. Using Neo as the freshman, we learn at his rate as he is taught about The Matrix. This slow layering of the story works well and helped to keep my attention focused on the story presented. It was only until after the film ended that a big question popped into my mind, but we’ll get that later.
The Matrix is a mix of Dark City and Strange World with some Gibson stirred in for good luck. The ideas presented are horrifyingly plausible and strangely engaging. Keep this in mind; the film is not a brain-dead film. The script is quite intelligent and though it’ll be hard for you to lose interest in the film, you’ll want to keep the brain turned on for this sci-fi action film. The film doesn’t stay with one genre too long, it defies cliches and moves between genres at will and does this well. There’s quite a bit of action, some romance, a double cross, and a lot of sci-fi. The portion of the film, next to the sci-fi, that got a large chunk of my attention was the action.
Most often American directors who try to emulate my favourite director John Woo end up looking like cheap knock-offs. But, this is the first time that I’ve ever seen action done at a level that approaches Woo. The Wachowski brothers are, in my book, close or as good as Woo in doing action. The action sequences in The Matrix are of the same type of adrenaline pumping, at-the-edge-of-your-seat action that Woo puts together. There are many standout sequences, including some incredibly choreographed hand-to-hand sequences that will not be forgotten anytime soon. The action sequences that had me in awe were the gun-fighting sequences. Sure, we’ve all seen it done before; the slow-mo, and the bad guys that have no aim, the bullet shells hitting the floor. But, it’s never been done this well.
The special effects by Matthew Ferro are a visual feast. Bullets can speed up, slow down, and can also come to screeching halts. People can run up walls, jump into the air and linger, and then come crashing down with enough force to crack pavement. Then there are the subtle effects that are added for style. Look at the way that Ferro and the Wachowski brothers use reflections in Morpheus’s sunglasses. These are some of the best effects to ever hit the screen.
Performance wise, all performers give good performances. Actually, I think that the secret with the Wachowski brothers is that they do not tailor the performances of the actors to the movie, but instead tailor the movie and atmosphere to the actors. Keanu Reeves, whom when not pressured to emote too much, can turn in good performances. He did just that in Speed and Devil’s Advocate; and he does it again in The Matrix. Laurence Fishburne’s last foray into sci-fi was the horrible Event Horizon; this time around he does much better. Not only does he have better material to work with, but he also has a part that is tailored to his acting style. Fishburne is just right for the part of Morpheus. Carrie-Anne Moss, whom I’ve never seen as a performer, puts in a wonderful performance as Trinity. But, the performer to notice is Hugo Weaving who is one of the Sentinel Agents (imagine an evil version of the Men In Black). Weaving uses a monotonous flat performance that turns out to be one of the best in the film.
The thing that got to me after I stepped out of the theatre was the fact that the film ends a bit too abruptly. It leaves a question that I couldn’t figure out the answer to and that I thought could have been answered in the film. I’ll reveal the question and I’ll do it in such a way not to spoil any fun: What are the freed people going to do in the world that they’re freed into? This question is a nagging question that the film glosses over with a voice-over that really doesn’t tie things up as tightly as could be. But, this is only a small nuisance of the film. Looking at the film as a whole, it is a well put together and entertaining film.
Let me just reiterate: Don’t Miss The Matrix. This is one of the best films of the year. Please do catch this on the big screen, there are some effects that are meant to be seen on the big screen. You’ll have to see the film to find out the answer to the big question:
“What is the Matrix?”