Editor’s note: This review originally ran during the Tribeca Film Festival. We’re re-posting it because the film opens in theaters nationwide today.
Moon is a collage of sci-fi cinema whose cut and paste pieces will be familiar even to those not comfortable dropping terms like Replicant or Sleestack into polite conversation. That’s not to say it lacks originality — there’s a star-cluster of clever twists and style — but Moon manages to find that magical middle ground where both zealots of the genre and newbies will feel satisfied to spend 90 minutes on board. With only one actor. Much of this has to do with Sam Rockwell, and the simple concept that gets pulled in a number of contortions that are easy to follow yet avoid the soap-opera-in-space-syndrome that plagues too many frames of contemporary sci-fi celluloid.
Sam is a man on the moon finishing up the last two weeks of a three-year contract involving a moon-rock digging operation; his wife and daughter eagerly await his return. This is the inter-galactic cinematic equivalent to the cop with only two weeks to go before collecting his hard-earned pension. But instead of chest-jumping aliens or glitches in space-time-continuum screwing up his lunar-retirement, a more intriguing device is dropped in our laps — another Sam. This suggests that spending three years alone on the moon wasn’t such a hot idea. His only lunar companion, an AI named Gerty — voiced by Kevin Spacey in is most natural role yet — “thinks” that Sam just needs to get some rest.
But he isn’t going nuts; the Sam clone is real. The events that follow waiver between the type of psychological self-reflection that can only occur when having a conversation with a younger version of yourself, and a Philip K. Dicksian thriller that despite its initial hallucinogenic veneer, takes a refreshingly straight-forward and satisfying route to conclusion.
First time director Duncan Jones’s birth name, Bowie (yep, David is his dad), naturally evokes Major Tom comparisons. You could also bring up Kubrick’s A Space Odyssey and Ridley Scott’s futuristic visions of dirty space-stations and corporate-sponsored Cartesian riddles. One of the plants on the lunar-station has even been labeled “Ripley”, a clear nod to Sigourney Weaver’s alien-thrashing moniker. But all of this is secondary to Rockwell, whose dueling Sams inhabit almost every shot, and whose performance allows the soul-searching side of the film to hit home, making Moon a rare, and much needed, moody intellectual sci-fi flick.