Director: Tarsem Singh
Stars: Ryan Reynolds, Natalie Martinez, Matthew Goode
Duration: 117 mins
The concept of face-swap, body-swap or mind-swap is not a new one to movies. Even in real life, medical technology continues to advance to the point where this sort of thing is not necessarily science fiction. Which means that, on the screen, ideas can get bigger and bolder and this effort starring Ben Kingsley and Ryan Reynolds takes its premise then runs with it… until the end of the first act, when Self/less, discards its fascinating premise and runs out of steam to segue into a bog standard, predictable action thriller.
Kingsley stars as Damian Hale, New York billionaire extraordinaire who has built a vast industrial empire. He is dying of cancer but, with the help of a mysterious medical organisation run by the smooth Albright (Matthew Goode) Hale is offered a way to cheat death. Albright has created a process known as ‘shedding’, where a person’s mind is transferred into the lab-generated body of a young, healthy man.
The process is successful and when Hale wakes up he is now called Edward and looks remarkably like Ryan Reynolds. Edward sets about enjoying his new life, but one day he begins to have vivid hallucinations and discovers that the body he is in actually belonged to someone else.
And, as he comes to terms with this horrific discovery, he finds himself on the run from Albright’s sinister henchmen who need to stop Edward from exposing their secret.
Up to the moment of the procedure itself, fascinating with its equipment that looks like a cross between an MRI machine and a giant blender, the film is quite compelling.
Yet, once the procedure is over and Damian wakes up as Edward, the whole unravels somewhat. We are at first treated to a sequence where, like a child on Christmas morning, Edward is given time to have fun with his new healthy sexy body and untold riches.
The film-makers eschew any attempt to tackle the deep themes the storyline initially throws up
Once that is out of the way, and he discovers the rather nefarious truth behind his existence, the highbrow premise falls by the wayside. The filmmakers eschew any attempt to tackle the deep themes the storyline initially throws up – the prospect of death and the chance of immortality – into a sequence of unexceptional fist and car chases as it heads to its obvious conclusion down a path well-trod with all loose ends neatly and happily tied up.
Kingsley does an excellent job in establishing the kind of person Hale is. The actor embodies the property magnate with consummate ease, despite his implausible accent and the luxury apartment whose ostentatious design is at odds with his quiet elegance. This is a man fully committed to his business, even at the expense of the relation-ship with his daughter (a stern Michelle Dockery).
Hale is a man who is intelligent, egotistical, ruthless and charismatic… none of which qualities seem to have transferred to his new body. And, in a rare misstep for Reynolds (who has shown particularly strong acting chops in the past) he makes little attempt to mirror at least some of the character’s traits as played by Kingsley.
So when, as the plot dictates, Edward starts to experience the consciousness of his body’s previous owner, as it were, there is little conflict between the two personalities sharing the same body – to add to the myriad missed opportunities to create something more profound than what it ended up being.
Matthew Goode is compelling as Albright, as charming and suave as he is cold. He is a brilliant scientist, a man who believes that his unorthodox work will ultimately benefit humanity, arguing convincingly that death should not rob the world of people with great minds – with the likes of Einstein and Steve Jobs casually name-dropped.