Moon is a suspenseful and haunting science fiction drama, a promising feature debut by Duncan Jones, self-consciously modeled after classic films like 2001, Alien, Outland, and especially Douglas Trumbull's Silent Running. It's cleverly conceived, and executed with heart and economy. The production design, with a layer of dirt and grit over everything (including, it almost seems, Sam Bell [Sam Rockwell]) himself, with his sloppy caveman look), quickly conveys the idea of a bare-bones mining operation, designed to deliver the greatest financial rewards for a minimal investment. And while Moon, in the best speculative tradition, is about many things, on one level it's a scathing critique of late capitalism, and our participation in our own exploitation. There's a heartless corporation behind everything, but beyond that Moon compellingly examines the compromises and choices we make for ourselves, and how they impact us in ways we rarely see. When, after nearly three years of working in solitude on the moon, Sam Bell awakens from a mining accident to find a younger, angrier version of himself waiting, he does get to see the impact of those choices, clearly and dramatically. Both Sams do.
As good as Moon's story, script, and technical credits are, it's hard to imagine it working so well without Sam Rockwell in the lead.
Rockwell's grit as an actor does as much as the excellent production design and old-school effects to put us there with him on that mining station. Moon's storyline may take a fanciful leap or two, but Rockwell plays with such passion and wit that he makes the suspension of disbelief easy. Moon is a small-scale film, but, thanks in no small part to Rockwell, its mix of thematic grandeur and human drama makes it a worthy successor to those 1970s science fiction films that inspired it.
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