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I really wanted to enjoy this film. It’s not often that a film comes out that really grabs my attention without having seen much in the way of trailers or TV commercials for it. Reminiscence, released in both theaters and on HBO Max, was one of those films that caught my eye but sadly, it left me more than a little disappointed. There are moments of a good story in the film, and there are performances that I found quite engaging. Unfortunately, like the technology outlined in the story, this film was stuck in a loop that it couldn’t find its way out of.
Spoilers ahead, so don’t read if you haven’t watched the movie.
When I reviewed The Little Things earlier this year, I mentioned in the review my love of noir films, particularly the genre of neo-noir. My biggest problem with Reminiscence as a film and a story is that it tries desperately to be a noir film but can’t really hit the right notes along the way. Couple the missed story beats with an overly long runtime and you have a film that should have been better than it ultimately turned out to be. The overall runtime for the move is just over 116 minutes, so just shy of two hours. They could have easily cut 10 to 15 minutes off the film and have a much more streamlined experience that gave the story the necessary oomph that it needed.
Set in Miami that has been nearly swallowed by the ocean after the global sea levels have arisen, Reminiscence follows Nick Bannister, a private detective of sorts who uses a form of technology that allows people to relieve their memories. Most of these are mundane moments, such as a legless war veteran who revisits memories of playing with his dog before the war and his injuries. Another client, Elsa, constantly revisits moments of passion with her lover and father of her child. And then a beautiful redhead enters Bannister’s life and everything goes awry when she disappears suddenly. Her disappearance and Bannister’s obsession with finding out who she was and why she disappeared become the driving force of the plot.
The performances are good, for the most part. Hugh Jackman plays into the obsessive nature of Bannister, looking quite unhinged as he finds out more and more about the woman he fell in love with, Mae. Rebecca Ferguson gives a wonderful performance as the traditional femme fatale role common in noir stories, even adding her vocal talents to the singing sequences. Thandiwe Newton as Bannister’s old war buddy and assistant Emily “Watts” Sanders brings her usual talents to the film, creating a deft character who drowns the memories of the life she could have led. Overall, the film’s main characters are solid and everyone brings their A-game to the proceedings but that doesn’t save what turns out to be too convoluted of a story into focus.
Noir films are well-known for their twists and turns, mainly because the characters find themselves in the seedier parts of life, where no one can truly be trusted or believed. Everyone is working an angle in a noir story, which this film tries to play up but can’t really muster to the task. This would have been a far better fit as a cyberpunk story, particularly given the technology dreamed up for the main plotline. Bannister’s obsessive pursuit into Mae’s disappearance is meant to convey a descent into darkness but it never fully feels that way, particularly once the subplot involving one of the largest land barons in the story’s setting dies and his son is revealed to be the big bad all along. The film can’t decide if it wants to be a science-fiction film, a neo-noir film, or a murder/mystery with ham-handed critiques on wealth and privilege. Because it can’t focus on one type of story that it wants to tell, it can’t tell any of the stories it’s attempting with any degree of success.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this review, I wanted to enjoy the film but I found that I just couldn’t bring myself to like it by the end. There are those out there who may enjoy it, so I would suggest checking it out on your own when it returns to HBO Max in a few months (at the time of this review, the film was finishing up its month-long opening on the HBO Max service). While there are interesting moments in the film, the overall effect left me feeling like it was stuck in one of the memories of Bannister’s clients, something fleeting and never fully realized.