"THE ISLAND" (2005) Review
The summer of 2005 saw the release of a science-fiction thriller called "THE ISLAND". Directed by Michael Bay, the movie proved to be a box office failure in the U.S., but a hit with overseas moviegoers.
Many have described "THE ISLAND" as a a pastiche of "escape-from-dystopia" science fiction films of the 1960s and 1970s like "FAHRENHEIT 451", "THX 1138" and "LOGAN'S RUN". The movie begins with a young man named Lincoln Echo Six, who lives in an isolated compound which strictly regulates its inhabitants' lives. The Overseers control every aspect of the lives of Lincoln, his friend Jordan Two Delta and the other residents from diet and free time activities, to social relationships. The inhabitants hope to win a lottery to go to "the Island", the only place on Earth not contaminated by a deadly pathogen.
Already dissatisfied with his life, Lincoln illicitly visits a power-plant basement where his friend, technician James McCord, works. There, he discovers a live moth in the ventilation shaft, leading him to realize that the outside world might not be contaminated. When Lincoln releases the mother, he follows it to another section, where he witnesses the murders of two lottery winners - one after childbirth, and the other in the process of having his liver harvested. When Jordan becomes the next lottery winner, Lincoln rescues her from a similar fate and the two make their escape from the facility. While the facility's medical official, Dr. Merrick, hires mercenary Albert Laurent and his men to find Lincoln and Jordan, the pair learns from McCord the truth about their existence - they are clones of wealthy sponsors, who intend to use them for spare parts or surrogate motherhood.
"THE ISLAND" received mixed reviews from critics. Some complained that the movie seemed to be an uneasy mixture of a science-fiction thriller and an action film. Others complain that the movie did not handled the ethical issue of cloning very well. I might as well be honest. I like "THE ISLAND" very much. In fact, it is one of four Michael Bay movies that I consider favorites of mine. And I am not a big Michael Bay fan. Unlike many critics, I thought the movie did an excellent job of mixing science-fiction creepiness and high octane action. Well . . . most of the time. Now, I would not consider "THE ISLAND" to be perfect. But my complaints about the movie are different from those made by other critics. Well . . . not really.
A good number of critics had a problem with the movie's action sequences. They felt it was too over-the-top. I was fine with most of the action sequences. But there were two that failed to entertain me. Lincoln and Jordan's arrival in downtown Los Angeles led to a high octane chase that involved the pair, the Los Angeles Police and Laurent and his team. It was too much and too damn confusing. I found some of the stunts - especially those that involved the two clones hanging from high-rise building to improbable to swallow. It was just too over-the-top for my tastes. I also had a problem with Lincoln's fight with Dr. Merrick in the finale. It involved wires, glass and some rather confusing photography from Mauro Fiore. I have one last complaint. What in the hell happened to the clones at the end of the movie? I realize that they managed to escape the facility. But what happened to them following their escape? Like Lincoln and Jordan, they were adults with the mentality of adolescents or younger. Unlike Lincoln and Jordan, they had no experiences of life outside of the facility. What happened to them?
But for me, the good outweighed the bad in "THE ISLAND". There were a good number of action sequences that I actually enjoyed. And they include Laurent's confrontation with Lincoln and his sponsor, the real Tom Lincoln; and Lincoln and Jordan's encounter with Laurent's team at the Yucca train station in Arizona. But the best sequence for me proved to be Lincoln and Jordan's escape from the facility. I found it absolutely thrilling and well shot by Bay and Fiore. The action sequences also benefited from Nigel Phelps' colorful production designs and especially from the movie's special effects team.
The above action sequences were not the only aspects of "THE ISLAND" that I enjoyed. The movie also featured some rather interesting scenes that I found either creepy, very dramatic or rather funny. Screenwriters Caspian Tredwell-Owen, Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci did an excellent job in setting up what I believe is one of the film's best moments - namely the two murders that he witnessed and his discovery of the truth behind the facility. And the latter sequence was truly frightening, but in a subtle way. The most jarring moment proved to be Starkweather Two Delta's attempt to evade the facility's guards and have his organs harvested. That scene really had me on edge. Another wonderful scene proved to be one between Laurent and Dr. Merrick, in which the former begins to harbor doubt about the activities of his client's cloning facility. Lead actor was allowed to strut his stuff in a scene that featured Lincoln and Jordan's meeting with the former's sponsor, billionaire boat designer Tom Lincoln. I found it creepy, yet rather funny. However, the best scene - at least for me - proved to be James McCord's revelation that Lincoln and Jordan were clones. This scene was so well acted and so funny that not only is it my favorite one in the film, but . . . it is just a favorite of mine, period. If I had to list my ten favorite movie scenes of all time, it would be on the list.
I thought the cast was impeccable. Instead of using an American accent, Ewan McGregor used a Canadian accent for his role as Lincoln Six Echo. And it worked. If I must be honest, I have never been a fan of his American accents. And for his performance as Tom Lincoln, the actor used his own Scottish accent. Whether he was the clone Lincoln or the billionaire Tom Lincoln, McGregor was brilliant. I believe that his performance in this movie is among his best work ever. "THE ISLAND" turned out to be the first time I ever became aware of Scarlett Johansson. And she not only impressed me with her performance as the surprisingly strong-willed Jordan, but also made me realized what a strong screen presence she possessed. What I liked about her performance is that beneath Jordan's projected facade of delicacy and charm, laid a tough young woman who also proved to be rather observant of other people. And Johansson did a great job with her role.
The movie's supporting cast included Sean Bean, who portrayed Dr. Merrick, the cloning facility's administrator. One of the best things I can say about Bean is that he is an actor who strikes me as being a persistently first-rate chameleon. He can play hero, villain or otherwise at the drop of the hat. And while his Merrick is obviously a bad guy, he is a very subtle and at times, an emotional one. Djimon Hounsou portrayed the Afro-French mercenary, Albert Laurent. And like Bean, he also gave a first-rate and very subtle performance. In fact, Hounsou's Laurent seemed like an enigma to me. Thanks to his performance, he deliberately made it hard for the audience to surmise whether he was a true villain or someone who might prove to be an ally for the two protagonists.
"THE ISLAND" also provided comic relief from first-rate actors such as Ethan Phillips, Kim Coates, and Brian Stepanek. Michael Clarke Duncan gave a brief, yet very effective performance as Starkweather Two Delta, the doomed clone whose elation at being chosen to live on "the island" became despair over discovering that he was being operated on for his organs. It was a great moment for the Oscar-nominated actor. But my favorite performance came from Steve Buscemi, who portrayed Lincoln's friend, engineer James McCord. Remember my rhapsody over the scene featuring McCord, Lincoln and Jordan? Well, he was mainly responsible for making it so memorable for me. Mind you, both McGregor and Johansson also contributed to the scene with some excellent acting. But Buscemi made it for me. I believe it was one of his finest moments on screen - big and small.
I will not claim that "THE ISLAND" is a perfect film. It had a few action scenes that seemed over-the-top for me. And I believe it could have been more clearer about the fates of the clones at the end of the movie. But I cannot deny that it was an entertaining film with an intriguing plot. And for me, it worked, due to Michael Bay's energetic direction and a superb cast led by Ewan McGregor and Scarlett Johansson.