Dark City was lost amid all the Matrix fawning that occurred in the 90s, which is a shame, because although it might not be quite as good or quite as memorable, Dark City is a masterful display of style and a solid film in its own right.
Perhaps they should’ve put the actors in tight vinyl outfits?
Dark City seems to take place in an alternate version of the 1950s, the guys wear dark suits and hats and the gals dress up real nice – even when they’re hookers or lounge singers.
John Murdoch (Rupert Sewell) wakes up from an undetermined period of sleep/unconsciousness on a bathroom floor to find that he is linked to both of the afore-mentioned types of females. One is his wife, lounge singer Emma (Jennifer Connelly), the other a dead hooker on the floor of the room with strange shapes carved into her flesh…
There are apparently 6 dead hookers so far, and Detective Bumstead (William Hurt) is all over the case. Bumstead is thorough but appears a little nervous, possibly because the man previously in charge of the case – and his former friend – has been declared insane and spends his days ranting and raving about things that sound nonsensical.
Meanwhile Murdoch spends some time trying to recall his past and to find any detail that might be a clue to his true identity or his potential culpability. He even visits another hooker (Melissa George) to see if he is struck by any strange ‘urges’.
Keifer Sutherland appears claiming to be his private doctor, though Murdoch cannot recall ever meeting him, and things only get more confusing when cloaked, black hat wearing pasty guys show up demanding Murdoch go with them before hovering in mid air. It must be said that the first meeting with ‘the Strangers’ finds that for super beings (or whatever they are) they are quite ineffectual. For all their matter-transforming powers they can’t even manage to take down one man on his own on a ledge.
The plot of Dark City is not simple enough to summarise without giving too much away, so let’s just say that Murdoch spends the remainder of the film finding the answers to the who/what/where/when and why and dealing with the realities that the answers force upon him.
Dark City is reminiscent of many films yet very different to all of them. I was reminded of The Truman Show, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and yes there was more than a hint of The Matrix in there too.
Having to exist in a city of seemingly perpetual darkness results in the characters appearing worn and weary, and for long periods so too does the film, it unravels slowly then abruptly turns in on itself and moves in another direction altogether, and just when you feel you have the answer it moves once more.
Being made in Australia no doubt helped it stay low budget but did apparently necessitate the inclusion of several bit actors – who might actually be talented – but can’t pull off a convincing American accent. Keifer Sutherland seemed very miscast to me and was perhaps there for name recognition. His jittery, eternally out of breath Dr Schreber ended up giving me the shits with a performance that took the Tom Waits asylum inmate from Dracula and just turned it into a whiny annoying pathetic creature. Maybe that was the intent, but it didn’t help my enjoyment of the film.
Dark City has some exceptionally vivid images and a plot that rewards attention all the way to the end – though it is let down just a little by a cheesy ending. The few shortfalls that it has don’t prevent it from being worth a look, but they do hold it back from true greatness.
Final Rating – 8 / 10. In a pinch I would choose The Matrix over Dark City, but in reality both films are worth your time.