"District 9" isn't one of those movies where you jump out of your seat cheering at the end, sated and content after a rousing, slam-bang cinematic climax. Instead, it's one of those movies where you sit there quietly with the realization that you've just seen a very, very good film that you probably won't want to see again. And I don't necessarily mean that as a bad thing.
First, a quick recap of "District 9"'s basic plot in case you haven't heard about it yet. Shot in a documentary style, the film looks at what happens when an alien spaceship breaks down in the skies over Johannesburg, South Africa and a million lobster-like aliens (derisively called "prawns" by the humans) end up displaced and under guard for two decades in a detention area known as District 9. When the government decides to move them to a new location outside the city, it's up to a paper-pusher named Wikus to facilitate the process. And that's when things start to get all Kafka on him.
First off, let me just say thank you to producer Peter Jackson and director/writer Neill Blomkamp for having the guts to make an absolutely original film. It's not a sequel. It's not based on a comic book. It didn't start off as a 1970s TV show. It's an original idea executed beautifully. For that reason alone, "District 9" is a welcome breath of fresh air. And yes, I just used a cliche to applaud originality.
The movie is fast-paced and gory and relentlessly grim, but also surprisingly funny and heartfelt. At its core, "District 9" a buddy picture but it's also about family, relationships, greed, violence and mankind's horrifying ability to dehumanize living creatures -- including other humans -- whenever it's convenient. It's a testament to the talents of Blomkamp that he's able to balance out so many themes and ideas without getting heavy-handed about any of them. If anything, he seemed to go a bit too easy on some themes, like apartheid, which serves as an allegorical backdrop to the story without much reflection.
The bulk of the acting duties in "District 9" are carried by one man, newcomer Sharlto Copley who plays Wikus. The audience's first glimpse of Wikus is as a buttoned-up, tense man ready to take on a huge new responsibility. You can tell that Wikus is a company man, who follows the law and believes himself to be just a good guy who loves his wife. But once he gets to District 9, we realize he's also a jerk, a man who looks down on the aliens as lower life forms and disregards their sentience and pain as much as the next guy. But then karma bites him bad and that's when Wikus begins his transformation and Copley's talents kick into high gear. It's painful watching what Wikus goes through and Coply does an incredible job balancing that pain with Wikus' fear, cowardice and yes, stupidity. It's a terrific, three-dimensional portrayal of someone thrust into an unimaginable position.
And did I mention there's explosions? This movie packs a ton of action into its under-two-hour running time. It's not a movie for the faint of heart -- there's a hell of a lot of gore, both alien and human. But it's not Bruckheimer-style crash and burn action, which is to say, it's not just there to shake the fanboys out of their seats. It all serves the story and that in itself is refreshing.
Which takes me back to my original point -- "District 9" is an outstanding movie but it's also a tough movie to watch. I can honestly say I have no desire to see it again, but at the same time, I'm very glad I saw it the first time. It's an exciting, riveting, aggressive, hard film and that's an incredible achievement in these times of cookie-cutter cinema. "District 9" is well worth the price of admission. Don't miss it.
Just trust me, you're going to want to eat lobster afterward...and you're going to feel guilty about it.
Now tell me what you thought of the film....