Review: District 9
PLOT:: An extra-terrestrial race lands in Johannesburg, South Africa, and is confined to a ghetto called District 9. Twenty years after the landing, a paramilitary force, seeking to control the alien population, seeks to relocate the aliens. A civilian bureaucrat, Wilkus Van De Merwe (Sharlto Copley), leading the forced relocation, comes into contact with a mysterious alien substance that has unexpected effects on his physical and mental state- leading him to a deeper understanding of the alien race.
REVIEW: Wow, I did NOT see this one coming. DISTRICT 9 is one summer would-be blockbuster that has more or less flown under my radar the last few months. The trailers, and the posters have been interesting, but to me this looked like just another CLOVERFIELD retread that would be good for some light entertainment, but nothing else.
The buzz on this film only really got started about a month ago when it was previewed at Comic-Con. The buzz coming out of that screening was pretty much a studio's dream, and after finally seeing the film myself I can honestly say that this stands with STAR TREK, INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS, and UP, as one of the finest films of the summer.
Considering the fact that the studio has managed to avoid giving away too much of the film in the trailers, I'm going to try and avoid going into spoiler territory here. The best way to experience DISTRICT 9, is the see it with a clean slate. However- I will say this. This is NOTHING like CLOVERFIELD. It's not that style of film, where we're watching found video. This is, more or less, a straightforward narrative- although the first section of the film is shot like a news documentary- which I thought was a particularly effective approach.
What makes DISTRICT 9 such a great sci-fi film, is that it's one of the few big, effects driven blockbusters to come out which is actually trying to say something substantial about humanity, and specifically, the nature of prejudice. This is no average alien invasion film, and it's no coincidence that this is set in South Africa, which, up to about twenty years ago, was run under a strict apartheid government where white supremacy was imposed through a racist regime, only being overturned in 1990. In many ways, this is a retelling of the apartheid struggle in South Africa only with aliens as the oppressed citizens.
However, despite the heady subject matter this is still a pretty kick ass sci-fi action flick. There's all kinds of crazy alien weaponry on display here, and the last half hour of the film is pretty much wall to wall action, which gives us a good idea of what the proposed HALO film would have looked like if Neil Blomkamp had been allowed to direct. As fate would have it that project fell apart, but his work here signals the arrival of a major new talent, and after this film opens I wouldn't be a bit surprised to hear the HALO film was back on track, with him in the director's chair. I also really liked newcomer Sharlto Copley in the lead role. Supposedly, this is his first film and prior to this worked as a TV producer in South Africa. He's excellent is a difficult role, which requires him to be alternately cold-blooded, and heroic while never letting us forget that at the end of the day, he's just a regular joe in way over his head. In many ways he reminded me of Cillian Murphy in 28 DAYS LATER, and I expect this will not be the last we see of him.
I find it particularly satisfying to see a film like this after suffering through the brainlessness of GI JOE, and TRANSFORMERS 2, as it shows that there are filmmakers out there that are able to deliver entertaining action films, which don't completely sacrifice brain for brawn but keep a steady mixture of the two. I really can't recommend this one enough and it should be considered a must see.