District 9 (2009)

<strong class="MovieTitle">District 9</strong> (2009)

(In theatres, August 2009): There are a lot of things that annoy me about District 9: Elements of the premise makes little sense except in a satiric fashion (which the film eventually softens); the “magic mutation” shtick smacks of lazy screenwriting; the film’s eventual slide into action at the expense of ideas is well-done but a bit empty after the concept-rich first hour.  Nonetheless, I still want to defend this film against all naysayers for what it does well.  Starting in Johannesburg away from the western world is a first good step, but picking a nebbish, vaguely fascist bureaucrat as an unlikely protagonist really cements District 9’s intention to do things differently.  The aliens don’t escape this treatment either: few of them are portrayed in any positive light, making easy empathy with them even less obvious.  The pseudo-documentary nature of the film’s opening gradually cedes ground to more naturalistic hand-held direction, but it’s really the unusual nature of the film’s setting that captivates.  When the ideas recede to give way to the gunfights, at least they’re replaced by robust action.  After a summer of feature-length Transformers and Terminators, it’s a bit of a surprise to find out that a scrappy medium-budget film manages to outsmart its competition by featuring a restrained and gripping robotic exoskeleton sequence.  Taken together with a decent script and some clever direction, District 9’s risk-taking and uneasy adhesion to genre conventions makes it a superior B-grade science-fiction film, the likes of which we don’t see enough… but may soon do, thanks to the film’s remarkable budget-to-box-office success.  After an impressive apprenticeship in short films, director Neill Blomkamp suddenly finds a place as an accomplished genre auteur: District 9 may not be perfect, but watch what he’s going to do next.

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