Film Review: Dark City (1998)


Dark City is a gloriously wonderful film, which pays homage to Film Noir from the ’40s and ’50s, German Expressionist film of the 1920s and ’30s, and (to a degree), psychic battle manga like Katsuhiro Otomo’s Akira and Domu, along with the series Locke the Superman (which in turn inspired the first two works).

The film focuses on six characters, three leads who I can describe, and three supporting characters whose character descriptions are significant spoilers. The main three are John Murdoch (Rufus Sewell), Inspector Frank Bumstead (William Hurt), and Emma Murdoch (Jennifer Connelly). The other two characters being Dr. Daniel Schreber (Kiefer Sutherland), Mr. Hand (Richard O’Brian), and Mr. Book (Ian Richardson).

John is a man who wakes up in a hotel with no memory, and spends the film trying to figure out who he is. Bumstead is a world weary police detective investigating a series of murders in which John is the prime suspect. finally, Emma is John’s spouse who is worried about his sudden instability.

Then there’s Hand, Book, and Schreber. Again, these characters, or rather what they are, are spoilers, so I don’t want to get too much into that. Yes, this film is almost 20 years old, but just like The Usual Suspects, this is a film that benefits from going in cold. Without going into spoilers, let’s just say that the film goes into Cabinet of Doctor Caligari territory when it comes to definitions of reality and memory, and these characters are fundimental to that part of the plot.

The acting performancse in the film are great. In particular, I thought Richard O’Brian and Kiefer Sutherland’s formulances were standout. O’Brian brings an air of unearthly creepyness to the role of Mr. Hand, to the point that I really wish he got more horror film roles, particularly as a villain. Sutherland also does an amazing job as Schreiber, completely disappearing into the role to such a point that I’m utterly shocked that he received precisely no nominations from anywhere for his performance. Not even a Saturn award. If that’s not highway robbery, then I don’t know what it is.

The other performances in the film are good, but not quite as mindblowing. Hunt pulls off tired and world-weary well, though I suspect he was cast to type. Connelly does a great job as a woman who is in over her head, but is doing her best to get by.

It also bears mentioning that the film’s set design, wardrobe, and art are fantastic, and while the film’s CG has aged questionably, the practical effects look great, and the miniatures in particular are wonderful.

My caveat for the film is that the theatrical cut adds material to the beginning of the film which gives away the film’s twist, so go with the film’s director’s cut.

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