Director: Tarsem Singh
Cast: Ryan Reynolds, Matthew Goode, Natalie Martinez, Derek Luke and Ben Kingsley
Plot: A dying business tycoon (Kingsley) undergoes an experimental operation that transplants his mind into a younger body (Reynolds), but the treatment has a dark secret.
Self/less hasn’t done very well for itself. Despite an intriguing trailer, the thriller did exceptionally poorly in the box office, marketing slipped by most people and the few critics that did go and see it seemed to find the whole affair rather lacklustre. It is a shame, because I found Self/less, while nothing that will set the movie world on fire, rather entertaining and well worth a watch for anyone wanting a well-grounded Sci-Fi with some decent action on the side-lines.
Self/less’s true flaw is that it isn’t able to compete with the movies around it. In an era, where every month sees at least one major blockbuster crop up, whether it is another CGI, big budget superhero film or the latest instalment of a popular action franchise, smaller thrillers tend to get missed by the general public. As cool as that shady trailer looks, you are always going to pick Mission Impossible when the choice arises. And when it comes to action and budget, Self/less cannot hold up. The action is focused on more thrilling, grounded scenes, rather than anything outlandish yet memorable. For a start, the entire realism of the story would fall to pieces if Ryan Reynolds’ character suddenly possessed Jason Bourne-like powers. It gives Self/less’s the impression that it is rather middling. At the same time, we used to have far more time for movies like this, back before the blockbuster market became over-saturated. Self/less reminded me of a time when movies didn’t need an overabundance of special effects to amaze their audiences, but a strong lead, a clever script and some choice set-pieces. And Self/less gets by on its thriller elements. The premise of ‘shedding’ a process where clients steal younger bodies through a shady organisation is a good one. As the bad guys theorise: “What if Mozart had just one more life time to come up with another symphony?” It almost makes everyone else out to be the bad guys for sacrificing such intelligence to something as petty as nature. Cue a conspiracy theory that rockets ahead, pausing appropriately to develop characters or some over-arching themes. All in all, I think this movie is far better than the critics make it out to be.
A lot of this is down to the original lead character. While the other actors are trapped with trademark thriller stereotypes (Matthew Goode is great as the villain, but the character is so by-the-numbers evil scientist that he doesn’t stick out in the memory a week after the film), Reynold’s hero is one to remember. When we are first introduced to Damian Hale, he is played by Ben Kingsley’s ruthless tycoon. Even when terrified with his imminent death due to cancer, he is a mean piece of work, almost determined to up his snide remarks and casual cruelty, as a way of enjoying his last few weeks on earth. He is not the kind of man who deserves a second lifetime. However, when he is transported into the body of Ryan Reynolds, only to discover that he has been given the freshly-murdered body of an upstanding family man, his mean streak softens. We are then given the interesting development of this selfish businessman into a man determined to right his wrongs. The character arc is fairly obvious given the fact this is a piece of fiction, rather than reality TV. Of course, Ryan Reynolds’ character is going to turn good by the end, even if it means abandoning the MTV lifestyle the new body is introduced with. However, it gives Reynolds a fun character to take for a spin, solidifying his status as a reliable action hero, but one he can handle an emotional arc at the same time.
Final Verdict: A reliable thriller that has been hard-done-by the critics. Reynolds is superb in the title role.