Blu-ray Review: MR NOBODY - Ambitious But Shallow Sci-Fi Love Story

Mr Nobody is a film about choices – its problem is it doesn’t seem to make any.

Mr Nobody is a film about choices €“ its problem is it doesn€™t seem to make any. By building a story around the idea of someone observing, or actually experiencing, several possible simultaneous realities all based on which decisions he makes, the writer-director, Jaco Van Dormael, has allowed himself the chance to throw apparently every scene he can think of into a movie. While it€™s never exactly boring, the hodgepodge of ideas comes across as a mix between Sliding Doors, The Tree of Life, the last section of 2001, Dr Who and Wonders of the Solar System. The story centres (or stories centre) on Nemo Nobody, played as an adult by Jared Leto. As a child his parents (Rhys Ifans and Natasha Little) separate and much of what follows revolves around whether he stays with his father or mother. This is illustrated by a scene at a train station where his mother boards a train, his dad stays on the platform, and both call to him while he is stuck in the middle. I believe in the US the same thing happens with dogs when a couple divorces. Never mind the symbolic importance of the scene, it doesn€™t begin to ring true. Structurally the story is deliberately disjointed, skipping between periods of time and also alternative realities. We see, for instance, what would have happened had he stayed with his mother, then with his father. He seems at first able to tell the future, and possibly even go back and change things. Each version of events is defined by which girl he happens to fall in love with, but each skips so superficially through events that we never get to know the women; since Nemo€™s character is equally defined by his love for the girls we never really get to know him either. In one version of events, he has a €˜taboo€™ relationship with his stepsister after his mother marries another man. The parents€™ revulsion to this seems a bit naive; what do you expect when you put two horny teenagers in the same house, especially when one is Juno Temple? Temple grows into Diane Kruger and this particular Nemo spends most of his life looking for her after they are separated. Another finds himself married to Sarah Polley, a mentally unstable woman played as a teen by Clare Stone. The scene where they meet is cringe-inducing and unconvincing; part of the problem with this structure is that every scene is a Big Dramatic Moment, which means none of them has the resonance it might have had in a different context. The different women, in particular, become flat and uninteresting because they are simplified into a few easy-to-remember character traits. He has a third wife in a third parallel reality (played by Linh Dan Pham) who doesn€™t get to make any impression at all; all she does is look into his eyes, look worried, and ask significant questions about how he feels about her. The other structural conceit has Nemo as an extremely old man €“ 118 years old, specifically €“ towards the end of the 21st century, where he is €˜the last living mortal.€™ An X-Factor-style vote is taking place as to whether he should be allowed to die naturally or have his life prolonged. On his bed, which ought to have a big black monolith at its foot, he relates his story to a journalist who has the most thankless role in the movie; when he talks it€™s only to say €˜I don€™t understand€™ and ask how Nemo can be in two places at once. The movie wants to cram so much into its runtime (which at 141 minutes isn€™t brief) that its volume of ideas has a numbing effect, especially when you start to realise how shallow its exploration of these ideas is. It should be admired, on some level, for its audacity and its ambition; it wants to get the whole experience of human life into perspective. It wants to say, all of human life is here, and that our decisions ripple throughout time and space. It has an energy in its camerawork and editing which ought to be commended; Van Dormael is clearly an interesting and talented director. Visually, it never gets dull for a second, even if its style occasionally reflects its smoky, wide-eyed sensibility; at times it€™s like being stuck in a long conversation with a serious stoner. The soundtrack is a Hits-of-the-20th Century job; I€™ll be quite happy if I never see another movie with €œMr Sandman€ playing whimsically in the background. By trying to reach the parts that most dramas don€™t reach, it misses the parts that they do. Since every €˜dramatic€™ scene is heightened the overall dramatic effect is diminished. Rather than trying to get at the whole experience of life in a movie I think I prefer stories that allow drama to arise organically out of them, and have it left to me to see how they might apply to life. It takes the subtext of movies about relationships and life and death and elevates it to the primary subject, but it doesn€™t have a screenplay that matches that ambition; the scenes within themselves are heavy-handed and underwritten, and a few lines of dialogue are embarrassing. Though the cast is pretty good it cannot get past this problem; no one makes much of an impression. Maybe there is an interesting movie along these lines where we can see the hand of the writer shifting his character about, trying him out in completely different contexts. But it would need a lighter touch and a screenplay that matched its lofty ideas. FILM: A well-made, bold movie with many ideas, none of them original. The cast is good but they can€™t hope to let any humour or life break through its self-importance; there were times when I would have killed for some lightweight banter. TWO AND A HALF STARS VISUALS: The bright, colourful comic-book aesthetics of the movie are incredibly sharp and look good in high-def (in much the same way that modern TV ads do). The special effects in particular look very good and I was unable to detect any even minor visual defects. FOUR AND A HALF STARS AUDIO: A strong very sharp DTS-HD 5.1 audio track that highlight the sound effects and use of music throughout the movie. FOUR AND A HALF STARS EXTRAS: A fairly in-depth, 45-minute making-of and trailer. THREE STARS PRESENTATION: Clearly laid out menus on the disc which comes in somewhat uninspired packaging. THREE STARS OVERALL: I€™m not saying it€™s ripping off the movies/TV series I mentioned in the first paragraph, but I am saying they are all more worthy of your time than this movie. The fact that the director is clearly talented makes it both more bearable and more annoying. If you do actually like the movie, however, the Blu-Ray won€™t disappoint. THREE STARS Mr Nobody is available now on Blu-Ray.
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I've been a film geek since childhood, and am yet to find a cure. Not an auteurist, but my favourite directors include Robert Altman, Ernst Lubitsch, Welles, Hitch and Kurosawa. I also love Powell & Pressburger movies, anything with Fred Astaire, Cary Grant or Katherine Hepburn, the space-ballet of 2001, Ealing comedies, subversive genre cinema and that bit in The Producers with the fountain.