Reminiscence Movie Review
You know when you have a really great memory that you want to keep revisiting over and over again, like the moment you met the love of your life, or discovered a new pet to take home while trespassing in a neighbor’s yard, or when you tracked down the home of your favorite celebrity and they talked to you--right at you--before calling the police? Reminiscence explores a world where you can actively dive into your past to not only recall but feel such moments.
A futuristic noir thriller cast against a flooded Miami, Reminiscence leaves more than a few fond memories, even if it doesn’t fully capitalize on the concept or world at play. Starring Hugh Jackman, Thandiwe Newton, and Rebecca Ferguson, the movie revolves around a man searching for his lost love who may not have been the woman he thought she was.
Written and directed by Westworld producer Lisa Joy--her only other directorial credit is a 2018 episode of the popular HBO show--Reminiscence’s strengths lie in its worldbuilding, no surprise given Joy’s background. The city of Miami, partially submerged by the ocean, with other parts of the city walled off and desperately fighting back rising tides, is a beauty to behold and makes the argument that the film is better seen on the big screen than at home on HBO Max, where it will debut concurrently. As a partially dystopian version of Venice but without the 1,500 years of history, it’s an eye-opener, full of small, impressive details and vivid scenery.
Joy hints at past warfare and current politics, which teases a world you want to explore further, though interestingly the story itself is a very personal one… arguably a love story, mashed into a crime thriller.
The story itself is solid, an unpredictable jaunt with a few twists and turns that keeps you guessing. Powered by a charismatic Hugh Jackman performance and great chemistry with Newton, it’s an entertaining, relatively fast-moving thriller.
Despite the sci-fi setting, the movie is straight up noir, which may be disconcerting for some. While elements can be appreciated, the voiceover narration (by Jackman) is a device that has largely gone out of vogue and for good reason; it’s a little cheesy, and arguably sloppy. The dialogue, too, has a 1940’s vibe to it, but Joy isn’t consistent enough with it to really make it work; some of the acting comes off stilted as a result.
Style and execution is what holds Reminiscence back from being great. It’s a pretty film with an interesting story, but Joy doesn’t quite have the directorial chops (yet) to bring the experience to life in a dynamic, absorbing way. The pieces are there--the water-soaked city, the class warfare between the land barons (who own dry land) vs. everyone else, the technology to revisit memories--but she doesn’t quite capitalize on the synergy of those pieces. Think Minority Report, the way Spielberg not only presented a fully realized world but capitalized on the set pieces to inject energy into every scene. Or Inception, which made you question what was a dream and what was real. Reminiscence has the world, and it has the memories, but Joy doesn’t blend them together in a way that feels fully satisfying. Despite its novelties, it feels too by the numbers, too straightforward, and too unwilling to flex its science-fiction muscles.
It may not be perfect, but Reminiscence is worth remembering. Like that time your first child was born, or when you giggled endlessly as you slashed your friend’s car tires to get them back for not buying you a birthday present.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.