Rated R - Running time: 1:43 - Released 2/27/98

At first, this movie appears to be set in the 1940s in some large city in America. We soon find that that is not the case; in fact, nothing and no one is what it seems. And that's what makes it so interesting.

John Murdoch (Rufus Sewell) wakes up from a nap and realizes that he doesn't know who or where he is. But he does notice one startling thing: there is a dead woman on the floor. As he begins to search for his identity, he finds that he is a wanted man; a serial killer of prostitutes is on the loose, and he is the prime suspect. Seems kind of hard to fight the accusations of Inspector Frank Bumstead (William Hurt) with this bloody lady in his apartment. He soon discovers that he has an estranged wife (Jennifer Connelly), a loving uncle (John Bluthal), and an intriguing past, none of which he can recall. And he also has a strange power: he can move, create, or destroy things with his mind.

He comes in contact with Dr. Daniel Schreber (Kiefer Sutherland), a psychiatrist who says he knows what's going on: John's memory has been erased by a group of aliens. Dr. Schreber has agreed to help them in exchange for his life. John's strange power is called "tuning." The aliens all can do it, but John is the first human with the ability. With this ability, he must find out who he is, where he's from, and why (or if) he committed these violent crimes.

This movie is a good blend of solid acting and interesting special effects. The aliens, a society of Uncle Fester lookalikes led by Mr. Book (Ian Richardson) and Mr. Hand (Richard O'Brien), fly around the city every night while the entire human population sleeps. With their minds, they create new buildings which inflate and change before our eyes. These effects are done with computer graphics, mainly, and are fun to watch. The resulting city is an intricate mixture of all styles and architectural periods.

Sewell shows us a man in search of himself, slowly uncovering fragments of memory and subtle elements of his past. His incredulity grows as he discovers he is not the only victim. Sutherland maintains high energy with his edgy character, adopting a number of nervous mannerisms and a breathing style that makes us all short of breath. This is a departure for him. And Hurt, Connelly, and Bluthal offer compelling support as pawns in a huge game none of them understands.

Writer/director Alex Proyas has achieved a dark texture to complement his sinister story. At first it is quite stifling and we seem to be in for a depressing journey, but the plot is intricate enough to engage our interest early on, forcing us to put the pieces together alongside the protagonist. That one's memory dictates what is or is not real is a thought-provoking subject; Proyas presents a fascinating puzzle for us to ponder.

Trevor Jones's music, incorporating passages from Stravinsky's Rite of Spring, is an excellent choice to add tension and also lend a gothic feel to the proceedings. The climactic sequence is a little over the top, and consequently threatens to hamstring the seriousness of the subject matter. But the effects are breathtaking nonetheless. ****

Copyright 1998 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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