Directed by: Jonathan Mostow
Written by: John Brancato, Michael Ferris
Starring: Bruce Willis, Radha Mitchell, Rosamund Pike, Boris Kodjoe, Jack Noseworthy, James Cromwell, Ving Rhames
Released: 2009 / Genre: Science-fiction/Thriller / Country: USA / IMDB
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Surrogates is a cautionary tale about our increasing reliance on technology. The concept is intriguing as Bruce Willis attempts to piece together a murder plot involving robots and their human users. The film muses on the idea of a society living life where human dysfunction and limitation are discarded in the face of robotic better selves. These cosmetically perfect versions of human beings are controlled by their less than perfect owners who tap into their robot’s artificial intelligence allowing them to live full lives without leaving their home.
The machines – known as surrogates – have transformed the face of western society (ie. those that can afford the technology) and made cities awash with beautiful people where imperfection is a thing of the past. The drawback in Mostow’s film is that the perfection can only extend to the means of the filmmaking process, meaning you feel like you’re watching Hollywood congratulating itself on being far more attractive than Joe Public. It isn’t helped by Bruce Willis providing one of his worst performances in years.
Willis plays a detective on the trail of a killer who has developed or is in possession of a device that destroys the robot surrogate and kills the human host simultaneously. You will be forgiven wondering why Bruce Willis looks like a waxwork version of himself, bathed in high contrast to hide any skin blemishes on his face that might indicate age and retaining a facial expression as immovable as his limited range. This is because you are looking at his surrogate, or more precisely, his perfected version of himself. If the Hitler Youth is this guy’s idea of a perfect self, I’m not too sure surrogates are a future we want to experience.
The film, adapted from a graphic novel (aren’t they all these days), does have a great concept but tells its story in much the same way as better graphic-novels-to-film-adaptations Sin City and Watchmen, in that it features the protagonist undertaking an investigation in the midst of institutional and political conspiracy. There’s elements of film noir and the detective on a trail much bigger than that which it first appears. But director Jonathan Mostow is handcuffed to a script that rarely utilises its original idea of a future where imperfection is nonexistent, concerning itself more with a hackneyed conspiracy plot.
Admittedly, there is an attempt to make sense of this perfect society as Willis questions his wife’s changing values after her surrogate allows her to lead a life she thought she couldn’t have. His wife, played by Rosamund Pike, isn’t happy when Willis begins to live his own life without his surrogate robot. Cue Mostow abandoning the high contrast and Willis the bleached blond hair, to reveal a weathered face, grey hair and an unkempt beard. It’s little wonder Pike fails to share her husband’s new found penchant for ruggedness. But it’s shallow and rather discourteous. When Pike eventually reveals her true self – grey hair and a huge scar across her face evident for all to see – Mostow is telling us this is her real human form. But you know she’s still gorgeous, and more often than not her true self in Hollywood is closer to that of her surrogate robot than the scarred and aging woman revealed in the film. Indeed, her imperfect self is more heavily doctored by make-up artists than her faultlessly attractive robot. There’s a sense throughout that these human perfections are the idealised version of ourselves through Hollywood’s rose-tinted spectacles, and that every time the surrogate’s user is revealed we see only see a pretty Hollywood actor with their beautifully pristine looks rendered hazy amidst a few grey hairs and some aging skin lines. Well, with the exception of Bruce Willis – no wonder he looks uncomfortable throughout.
Surrogates could have been so much more thanks to its great premise but is hampered by an unconvincing performance from Bruce Willis and its own shallowness towards the subject matter.
Review by Daniel Stephens – See all reviews