Shot on every cent of a five million dollar budget and the directorial debut of Duncan Jones (the son of David Bowie, no less), Moon was without doubt the most underrated and underviewed film of 2009. With an underrated film comes an underrated actor in Sam Rockwell (Frost/Nixon, Iron Man 2) who pairs up with one of my favorites in Kevin Spacey to deliver a science fiction movie hell bent on breaking all the rules of genre-specific filmmaking.
Rockwell plays namesake Sam Bell, an astronaut stationed on the moon carrying out operations as part of a three-year contract, at the conclusion of which he is to return to Earth. He lives in isolation with only supercomputer GERTY (voiced by Spacey) for company. Working peacefully, his problem-free situation begins inherently more complicated when he finds unexpected company aboard his station, leading to the unraveling of a giant conspiracy that challenges his very existence as a human being.
For a genre obsessed with alien invasions and intergalactic wars, Moon embarks on something of a path less travelled. However, don’t let that fool you — the heart and raw emotion of the plot more than makes up for the film’s lack of gunfights and high-tech action. Duncan Jones came up with the original story and must be commended on what can be best described as a magnetic series of events.
Indeed, after Sam makes the discovery that sets the movie into motion (after an admittedly sluggish start), don’t be surprised to find yourself moving closer and closer to the edge of your seat as you wait for the next “big” moment. Had I been secretly videotaped while watching Moon (hey, it happens) you’d notice my facial expressions range from empathy to intrigue to anticipation to . . . utter confusion during the climax (it all does end up making perfect sense before the end credits). And for any film to create such an interest in its characters and what happens around them is an undeniable positive.
This couldn’t be done without a strong showing in the acting department. Spacey has the “friendly robot voice” down to an absolute tee (a pleasure to listen to) but it is Rockwell who carries this film. In the midst of the writer’s strike in the US, Jones and writing partner Nathan Parker still deliver an impressive screenplay, and Rockwell compliments its emotion-driven direction to put in a quality performance cementing his credentials as a leading man. His temporary nervous breakdown — where it all gets too much for him and he wants to “just go home — is the standout scene, and a perfect example of what I’m trying to explain. Jones also has great fun spoofing all sorts of genre-defining sci-fi films. Some references are obvious (pretty sure GERTY and HAL are cousins) while others are subtler, and offer satisfying intertextual depth to fans of the genre.
Let me conclude in saying this film is not for everyone. For those expecting a more action-oriented movie, the synopsis offered by the Showtime channel (” . . . things take a turn for the worse when Sam discovers he’s not alone”) may ultimately prove misleading, but that is to take nothing away from this absorbing mind-bender. And for anyone who felt the ending was somewhat abrupt and could have been expanded upon, word round the campfire is that Moon was just the first of a planned trilogy. Watch this “space” . . . awful pun definitely intended.