Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Impostor

"They're wrong about me. I've done nothing. I'm a good man."

To escape the sad, unending news cycle, I've lost myself to random films. I finally caught up to another of the adaptations of the work of Author Philip K. Dick in Impostor [2002; finished in 2000]. Ironic that Dick's The Adjustment Bureau was in theatres at the time of this writing. The DVD I utilized for my review was the Canadian-release L'Imposteur.

There have indeed been seemingly mixed results tackling Dick's writing since his passing in 1982. For whatever reason there is often an eclectic, weird energy in efforts to adapt his work, which clearly center on robotics, androids and fairly skeptical views of the world to come and what it means to be human. Directors are certainly attempting to tap into the energy of those books and short stories, but the results often vary.

In film, Dick is probably best known for Director Ridley Scott's Blade Runner [1982] based on Dick's Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?. This is a hands down an influential classic. Director Paul Verhoeven's Total Recall [1990] was a less successful attempt drawing from his short work We Can Remember If For You Wholesale. Nevertheless, Total Recall was a huge financial success unlike Scott's Blade Runner. Screamers [1995] starred Peter Weller and was another strange, but decent science fiction opus based on the short story Second Variety. Breaking from a string of lesser film adaptations, Dick was given another major directorial treatment when Steven Spielberg took on Minority Report [2002] with Tom Cruise. This is clearly one of the finest man-on-the-run tales in science fiction. At the same time, Dick's 1953 story Impostor was released to cinemas produced by and starring Gary Sinise the same year. It was released two years after production wrapped and probably says something about the film itself. Additionally, from the Dick reservoir, Director John Woo tackled a short story for Paycheck [2003] with Ben Affleck. Director Richard Linklater placed his own visionary, personal effects touches on A Scanner Darkly [2006]. It's hard for me to wrap my arms around Linklater. I'm simply not a fan of his rotoscoping techniques. They simply turn me off. Finally, Dick's The Golden Man was converted for Next [2007] starring Nicholas Cage. Matt Damon brings us the latest from the Dick archives in the form of The Adjustment Bureau [2011] with more running and dodging than you can shake a stick at.

One thing is certain Dick's stories translate well to cinema because the stories apparently, and I have not read them all, lend themselves to a good chase. In fact, sometimes it feels like these films overshadow the true science fiction in favor of the screen action. Ridley Scott created the best work and balance of Dick's material to date in retrospect offering viewers a proper dose of question and contemplation with just the right dose of physical action. The action never overshadowed the ideas. Minority Report succeeds as well.

There really hasn't been a Dick story that didn't lend itself to a good chase. You can always count on a good dose of running, chasing or chasing and running, and more running by people on the run by people giving chase to them. You get the picture. Be prepared for running. In fact, I'm surprised The Running Man [1987], written by Richard Bachman a.k.a. Stephen King, wasn't a Dick-adapted film.

Dick's stories also lead to films with great stars. There seems to be a number of interesting actors that assemble for these films. There's no shortage of talent. Impostor stars Gary Sinise, Vincent D'Onofrio and Madeline Stowe in the year 2075. Future Stargate Atlantis babe Rachel Luttrell even makes a quick cameo, but you might miss her. Future Stargate SG-1 guest star alum Tim Guinee even gets a brief part.

The sci-fi tech and interior art direction of Impostor is wonderful in spots. Dick's work, to film, always brings with it a great realization and visualization of the future. All of that window dressing aside though, Impostor is more like The Fugitive [1993], but not nearly as gripping or compelling as that remake.

Impostor sadly finds less in common with the classics as director Gary Fleder really delivers a bare, cerebrally unsatisfactory product.

My college film professor once said you could always tell a lot about a film in the first ten minutes and Impostor offers that set up very quickly, before becoming a man-on-the-run scenario. You quickly understand the framework. The question: Is the pay off worth it? The ending is a good one and has merit. It raises questions of kindness and humanity and what it means to be truly human, but ultimately the pay off just isn't there. No matter how interesting the final moments are in begging questions of peace, a desire for acceptance and love, the running and chasing and very little development of those themes throughout the film undercut the ending. All of the chasing and running fail to feed these larger moral and thematic questions. The ending simply cannot negate all that transpired before it.

Ironically, and most intriguing, there is a 37 minute short film version of the story on the DVD minus ALL of the running and chasing and it's just as satisfying, more succinct, in delivering the morality play of the story sans the action cliches. This is all you need to see really. While effective, it's certainly not a major film and proves the point it should have remained a short story until a better script was penned.

Most of the film is a dark, poorly lit sci-fi actioner directed by Gary Fleder. Who? Fleder has turned out some relatively forgettable pictures in the form of Kiss The Girls [1997] and Don't Say A Word [2001]. His Runaway Jury [2003] may be his crowning achievement. Otherwise he's been relatively quiet for a reason. The film cost roughly 40 million dollars and earned 8 million. A certified disaster as films go. It's always hard to come down on a work like this, because it's clear a great deal of effort and work went into the film by a lot of people. It just doesn't come together on a substantive level. It's as fleeting as the foot race on which the film is based. Further, you hate to see a missed opportunity like this based on some really good science fiction ideas.

An hour into the picture and I realized Vincent D'Onofrio was still in hot pursuit. It all seemed rather pointless and dull really. The actor must have been thrilled to know he was able to run back and return to his famous detective role on Law & Order: Criminal Intent. Chase and run films can be exciting like Minority Report and to a lesser extent, in a rare feat, Michael Bay's The Island [2005], but the ideas mustn't be overly stifled. Those concepts need to be the energy and driving force of a good science fiction film.

Had their been a more convincing plot drawing on these good concepts to get to the conclusion the film really could have been more impressive. Since it's a movie we've come to see, it does that, but the razor thin plot isn't enough to run and chase its lead to the story's denouement. Additionally, Sinise is "a good man" and a fine actor and has played some terrific parts in some strong films [A Midnight Clear, Ransom, Forrest Gump, Apollo 13], but unlike Harrison Ford in The Fugitive, he doesn't deliver frantic or sympathetic as effectively and may have miscast himself to some extent. Sinise was perfect for his self-directed and produced film Of Mice And Men [1992], but despite a good effort Impostor is a misfire. Ultimately, the film I had hoped to see was one where the Impostor truly underscored Dick's themes of personal identity and humanity. Even if those involved had explored the concept of self-deception or false belief in an ideal it could have been a more robust tale. Dick's short story might be the way to go, because this merely teases those ideas. It's not without value, but this is one of Dick's weaker adaptations. The Sci-Fi Fanatic signing off [I swear it's me].

Impostor: C- Director: Gary Fleder/ Writer: Scott Rosenberg

6 comments:

christine said...

i love it so cool film and gary is so great in it

The Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

Hello Christine. Welcome. Thank you for the comment. Obviously you had a greater affection for the film than me, but I too really love Sinise in general. He's a wonderful actor that I mostly enjoy.

I can't help but think the empty shell of a film combined with his personality left me a little cold, but that's certainly rarely the case when it comes to Sinise. I enjoy his work. thanks again, SFF

le0pard13 said...

This is one of the few Dick adapted-films I've missed. Fine review, SFF. I very much appreciate Sinise (and just watched him again in RANSOM -- what a great villain he was in that). Thanks for this.

The Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

I agree L13.

I really enjoyed Ransom. The cast of that film really turned it on.

I enjoyed Screamers more than this one. Thanks my friend.

Will said...

My boy D'Onofrio is in this!!!

My friend Tony swears by this movie but I still haven't watched it.

I heard it was a short film for a Philip K. Dick anthology film but then, when that fell through, they had to make it feature length. That might be the problem overall. . .

The Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

Boy Will, you shed a lot of light on the problem with this film. It is indeed a short story, even a short film, that has clearly been extended. It suffers for it. It would have been better as part of an anthology of film shorts. That is too bad.

It's not great. Though, it's better than a film I saw recently that was worse. More to come on that one starring Charlie Sheen.