Synopsis: Film noir set in future Miami, a man uncovers crimes as he searches for his ex girlfriend.
Climate change meet film noir. Reminiscence skips ahead to a near-future that finds Miami turned into a neon Venice. In case you didn’t know, Miami already gets regularly flooded and efforts have been made city-wide to pump the water out of the lowest-lying areas of the city. But our story seems to take place about fifty (?) years from now and apparently the powers that be said screw it and just let the city drown.
Film noir was incubated in the dread and aftermath of world war, dealing with humanity’s underbelly while the world was on fire in movies like The Maltese Falcon (1941, with Mary Astor & Humphrey Bogart) and Out of the Past (1947, Jane Greer & Robert Mitchum).
More dread — in the 21st century, the world is burning again. This time it’s literally rising temperatures that are melting the glaciers that raise the sea level while parched forests burn. In Reminiscence, filmmaker Joy finds a practical reason to stay out of the bright Florida sunshine and keep her characters in the shadows; Nick as narrator explains that people have become nocturnal. Given Miami’s current busy nightlife scene, I’m guessing not too many people put up a fight about that. And, like in real life when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans and the poorest couldn’t afford to move, in Reminiscence, Miami’s destitute make do while the rich live in the “drylands.”
Our narrator-protagonist is Nick (Hugh Jackman), a Navy veteran of the “border wars” and former border patrol agent who worked as an interrogator, injecting detainees with a drug and vocally walking them back to specific memories. Fortunately for the interrogators, technology allows said memories to be projected as a sort of hologram. Better for us viewers too. Who wants to listen to mumbled memories?
After his military service, Nick opens a sort of memory replay shop. Clients typically pay to relive their happiest memories of times with family and lovers. This seems a clear improvement over sitting at home watching porn. Anyway…he has an assistant, Watts (Thandiwe Newton) who operates the machinery, fiddling with dials and whatnot while Nick jabs the client, helps them get settled into what looks like a spa semi-sensory deprivation tube. Once the person is floating in the water, Nick launches into a hypnotic patter: You’re going on a journey…a journey through memory. Your destination? A place and time you’ve been to…”
Ah…this took me back in time to Christopher Nolan’s excellent Inception. Remember Leo DiCaprio’s character whispering the same sorts of things to his fragile wife (Marion Cotillard)? As it happens the director and screenwriter of Reminiscence is married to Chris’ brother Jonathan with whom she created the series “Westworld” which also features lots of flashbacks to characters’ reminiscences. As opposed to the intriguing, but heartless Westworld, her latest production has a hero and narrative with a clear moral sense; owing much to the good guy vibe generated by Jackman. Hugh’s Nick, like all noir men, is a a cynical tough guy who has seen too much to trust people. Unless that person is a dame with a fiery mane and gams that go on forever.
Yup, there’s a full on a-dame-walks-in alert when Mae (Rebecca Ferguson) comes into Nick’s place. Because this is noir, she’s not wearing skimpy athleisure in the tropical heat, but a 1940’s style slinky dress. Maybe she’d like to relive a pleasant childhood memory from before the world went to hell? No, she can’t find her keys. Seriously. I don’t know what Nick’s rates are, but it would probably be cheaper to call a locksmith.
In her projected memory, we see Mae walking into the nightclub where she works. She’s a singer: part Jessica Rabbit in dress and part Lana Del Rey in manner. Oops, she dropped her keys by her makeup boudoir. Thanks, Nick. Guess I’ll never see you again. Ah, but she does see him again when he stops by the nightclub where she sings. He’s returning the earrings she forgot at his place. Wow, she mislays a lot of stuff. She needs to start attaching mini trackers to all her essentials.
Nick is completely besotted by this mysterious dame already, but then she starts singing a song that his mom liked. What are the odds?! Given the future setting, I was hoping the song that mum sang to child Nick was something like “I Want it That Way” by the Backstreet Boys. Alas, that is not noir, so instead, we listen to Mae sing a 1940’s tune. Yawn…
Mae and Nick hookup posthaste, rolling around in bed and lounging on the rooftop, admiring the sun set into the waters of the sunken city. We listen in on their pillow talk. Nick lets her in on some of his hard earned wisdom, like this gem: Memories are like perfume; better in small doses. Is he hinting that she wears too much perfume? No, he’s only letting her know that some people get addicted to using the memory machine and stop living their lives. (I already knew that, because in Inception Leo goes to what looks like an opium den where people take drugs to live in their dream worlds.)
Over the weeks that follow, Mae tells Nick a little about herself. She says she left London after it went under water. Then she moved to New Orleans. Now, Miami. What?? This woman has poor decision-making skills. I’m not saying that she needs to move to Zermatt, Switzerland or Omaha, Nebraska, but maybe don’t keep moving to coastal cities when the seas are rising by the day.
But, remember, moviegoer– and Nick too — this is film noir, so expect that their will be plenty of LIES! from our characters. Even the dames. Hmm, maybe, especially the dames. Fortunately, Reminiscence is not heavy on the sexism like the Blade Runner movies, so there are hints that Mae is, in fact, a good person in a bad situation.
When Mae walks out on Nick without a trace, he goes all saddo and spends his off hours reliving his date with Mae to a barely swampy park. His employee Watts catches him and scolds, I told you not to get back in the tank! But Nick doesn’t appreciate her advice and keeps fixating on Mae, blurting out things like: She was a grifter! But just like your friend who can’t let go of their ex, even as they trash them, he sets out to find Mae.
Fortunately, Nick is resourceful and plays by his own rules, so he’s ready to deal with all the lowlifes, crooked cops, sleazos and arrogant richies he meets. Expect Nick to get tripped up along the way by criminal plots gone awry and underwater fights. Nick seems uniquely capable of holding his breath under water for long periods of time as he beats up bad guys deep under water. Maybe he trained for this when he was in the Navy.
Oh, I forgot to mention that there is a really bad guy, a drug kingpin named Saint Joe who speaks in riddles and tries to drown Nick in an eel aquarium. He may also have been an ex boyfriend of Mae’s.
My advice? Nick, go back to Miami and maybe start a kelp farm or something. Then open your eyes and see that there is a good woman right under your nose! But this is Noir, and the characters insist on going on their own dark paths. And in this case, the dark paths are all flooded. Better bring your life jacket, Nick.