REVIEW: Reminiscence (2021)

Reminiscence is a movie that very strongly reminds me of a forgotten cult-classic called Strange Days starring Ralph Fiennes, Angela Bassett, Juliette Lewis, and Tom Sizemore. It was directed by Kathryn Bigelow and written by James Cameron and Jay Cocks. It takes a lot of the elements of that film about a conspiracy, memory recordings, and civil unrest then adds elements of Chinatown as well as Alfred Hitchcock. It also updates the setting from then near-future 1999 to a global-warming ravaged Florida.

ReminiscienceThe premise is Nick Bannister (Hugh Jackman) and Watts (Thandiwe Newton) run a memory business. In a future where humans have to stay indoors during the day, most of the coastline is sunk beneath the waves, and the rich live on artificial islands, people love remembering the good times. This isn’t quite as advanced as Total Recall‘s artificial fantasies but you can be made to recall sex, your dead loved ones, and more. Certainly, I’d see a big market for it.

A seemingly chance encounter with a beautiful lounge singer named Mae (Rebecca Ferguson) results in Nick becoming pathologically obsessed with her. She vanishes about six months into their relationship and he spends most of his time trying to track her down despite the fact it’s increasingly clear she was involved in organized crime as well as lying to him. Nick’s obsession alienates his business partner, not the least because it’s clear she has a thing for him as well.

What follows is a well-written but somewhat standard film noir with Mae’s disappearance tied to a land swindler, a bastard child, adultery, and a series of lies. There’s unrequited love, film noir narration, and obsession that mark all of the hallmarks of a classic tale of man going down the mean streets who is not mean. The fact it comes with a cyberpunk setting where the rich thrive while the poor are left to live in half-Venice/half-Mad Max should make the film fantastic.

It’s not.

It’s not a bad movie by any stretch of the imagination and fans of both cyberpunk as well as noir should probably check this out. Unfortunately, Hugh Jackman is trying to carry this film despite its weak script. He manages to sell it a good 90% of the time but the plot holes are big enough that when they do emerge, they undermine the entirety of the movie.

Example: Despite the fact the technology is not secret or illegal along with a bunch of legitimate corporate competition, everyone uses Nick Bannister’s run-down memory den. Rich, poor, police, criminal, or civilian. This means all of the plot is dependent on all of them being his customers and him getting called in repeatedly to do the job. Its enough that an elaborate conspiracy is made to try to get access to his customer data when there’s nothing particularly interesting about his insights.

An arguably even bigger problem with the story is that Nick’s romance with Mae never actually draws the audience in. While we hear his film noir private eye narration talk about love at first sight and some “romance in the fields” style scenes, there’s never really any sense that Nick knows that much about her.

Indeed, large segments of the movie depend on his being completely ignorant about her double-life. Yet, Nick is entirely willing to burn down every part of his life in pursuit of her when his business partner is holding a torch for him. In Strange Days, this was the same plotline but Ralph Fiennes’ character eventually wises up to realize his stupidity. In Reminiscence Nick continues to put Mae on a pedestal and obsess over her long after the audience has ceased caring.

There’s some genuinely good elements to the Reminiscence. Hugh and Thandiwe are fantastic actors that have good chemisty (too good in fact) while the vision of a dystopian peak-Global Warming Florida are extremely well done. Watching people putter around in motorboats to ruined office buildings being used as slums is almost worth the price of admission by itself. It makes no literal sense but the visuals are still fantastic.

Reminescence is an okay film but the emotional core is lacking. It seems to be saying nostalgia is a toxic drug but has its protagonist gleefully overdose on it while pretending this is a happy ending. They could have done a lot more with the memory tech as well, along with the fact that memories are frequently inaccurate and subject to bias. Still, I’ll watch just about anything cyberpunk and this is the first modern movie I’ve seen of it since Hotel Artemis.

Watch Reminiscence (2021)

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CT Phipps

C.T Phipps is a lifelong student of horror, science fiction, and fantasy. An avid tabletop gamer, he discovered this passion led him to write and turned him into a lifelong geek. He's the author of Agent G, Cthulhu Armageddon, Lucifer's Star, Straight Outta Fangton, and The Supervillainy Saga. He is also a frequent contributor to Grimdark Magazine.