Saturday, 10 January 2009

The Cheap-Arse Flim Review #15- "CODE 46."










Okay, here's the thing about Poundland- as far as their DVDs go, they sell alot of shit. Shit with awesome titles that often look like they'll at least be fun to watch and write about, but shit all the same. But every now and again, I'll be skimming the shelves, and I'll stuble across something genuinely interesting, that may actually star people I know, be made by someone I've heard of and have been financed and distrubuted by a production company that doesn't operate out of its Dad's shed. I mean, up until recently they were selling the single disc version of "Donnie Darko," which, if you're reading this and for some reason you've never seen it, I can't recommend doing so enough. And their four-in-one collections usually have at least one film on them that's worth a peak at.

But even taking all that into account, I was shocked to have found this. I mean for a start it stars Tim Robbins and Samamtha Morton, who I'll admit may not be massive draws to the casual movie fan, but they're very respected in their field, and most people will at least know Robbins from "The Shawshank Redemption." It's also directed by someone of note, Michael Winterbottom, who's up there with the most respected British filmmakers working today. He's not quite the draw that, say, Danny Boyle is, but unlike him he's not really succeeded in making himself one of the top draws for the movies he makes, a brand if you will (And I mean "brand," in the possible way, I want to point out, I mean it in the way Kevin Smith, Spike Lee, Quentin Tarantino and, on a much larger scale, Steven Speilberg are brands. Most people aren't going to see "Slumdog Milionaire," they're going to see, "The New Danny Boyle Move"). But he's still made some wonderful movies, such as "24 Hour Party People," (also written by the writer of this one), and "A Cock & Bull Story," both starring Steve Coogan, and both probably finding their way past the halfway mark in my top 100 movies of all time (although "... Party People," would be placed above "... Cock & Bull Story," if I'm honest). And even the films he's made that weren't as well recieved, like the sexually explicit "9 Songs," (which I've not seen, so you know what that means...), he's still found himself given respect for being willing to take chances. And there was one of his films, sitting sandwiched between two low-budget erotic horror movies (more on them another time). Suffice to say, I picked it up and ran for the counter like I was afraid it would turn to dust at any second.

Prior to the film starting properly, we're greeted, as we were with the last movie I covered, to more text, informing us of the following...










As you can plainly see, that is alot of text, and also alot to take in before the credits have even rolled. I find myself slightly more forgiving of this technique than I was when it was use in "Stag," because whereas that movie used it so it didn't have to bother establishing who any of the characters, here it's used to illustrate what will undoubtably be one of the main plot points of the movie. However, I can't help but think they could have just had a character at some point explain what Code 46 is, in a more efficient way than this does. All you really need to know is that, in the future, there are lots of people walking around unknowingly related to each other, and Code 46 exists to stop them reproducing. And even if you did feel like going into more detail than that, it's not like this movie was running long, including the credits it lasts a little less than 90 minutes.

So the movie starts properly now, and we see Tim Robbins' character, William, arriving at Shanghai by plane and being driven to the city, as we hear a woman's voice speaking over the top of what we're watching, speculating about what he must have done to reach his destination and eing proven write with every jump-cut. Some people feel the same way about voiceovers as I do about needless text, but I've never minded it really, especially not when it's used properly, which I feel it is here. It's not really used to fill in plot holes as it is to give us an insight into the mind of another character. When the car reaches the one of the checkpoints into the city, it is accousted by those that live (or as William's driver puts it, "just exist") in the desert surrounding it, attempting to sell them things. William takes a shine to one of the Outsiders, buys two sherbert fountains off him, and then gently lets him down when he says he can't get him into the city, telling him not to give up trying. This gets him telling off from his driver, who informs him that he shouldn't give out hope like that, as people who can't get in places usually can't for a reason. See? Something was established within the movie using characters, dialogue and actions! That wasn't so hard, was it?

Following this we meet the woman who was providing the voiceover for the proceeding scenes, Maria, played by Samantha Morton, when a talking screen near her bed wakes her up and wishes her Happy Birthday. I'm a huge fan of Samantha Morton. She's an amazing actress, but that's only part of it. In all honesty, I suspect she may be an Angel. I mean, she's not a typically attractive woman. "Quirky," I suppose is how most would describe her. But she just radiates this... it's difficult to put into words, but... she gives off this luminous, frail beauty, in every role she plays. You can't take your eyes off her, and you don't really want to. She... I'm going to stop now, because I've just read this paragraph back to myself and it's coming across as really creepy, and I've a feeling it'll only get creepier. She's fucking wonderful. Let's get back to the movie. Maria tells us via voiceover of a dream she has every year on her Birthday, that she's on a train, walking from carriage-to-carriage, looking for someone, she only has twenty stops to find them, and every year the train makes it to another stop. She tells us tonight she's down to the last station, and that if she's allowed to sleep, maybe she'll discover what she's who she's lookng for, or at least where she's going. It's all very cryptic, as you can tell.

Over the next few scenes we discover Michael's job, which is that of insurance freud investigator, and that he has been called in by The Sphinx, a company that makes insurance cover documents, or "Papeles," that allow people to travel to places they wouldn't normally. Apparently, someone has been creating forged Papeles for people, and the company would like William to discover who the culprit is. We also find out that William is able to read people's minds when they give him a piece of information about themselves, which is why he's so good at his job. He has this ability through the use of a specially created "Virus," that allow the people that are infected with them to do things they normally couldn't. I like the whole virus concept, and I also like that it's implimented in a very real-world way, with people not looking to become superheroes or anything special, but just to be better at their jobs. There's also a funny line later where Maria tells of how she was once infected with a virus that allowed her to speak Mandarin, only for her to not know what she was saying afterwards.

The Sphinx has already narrowed down a list of suspects for William to interview, based on the printer the forgeries came from, and he interviews them one-by-one, getting them to tell him something about themselves, leading to some very good pieces of dialogue, especailly from the woman who admits to having a fetish for freckled skin, which is made even funnier by William's amused reaction. I think I'm halfway with her on that one. Whilst I don't think I have a fetish about it, specifically, I do think freckles are nice. The only person who gives him any trouble during these interviews is, predictably, Maria. He takes this as a chance to flirt with her in a roundabout way, asking her what she's doing tonight, which lead her to tell him it's her Birthday, which of course lets him into her mind and causes him to look sternly at her and almost growl, "Happy Birthday." Now, we know why he's suddenly turned like this, because he's obviously just found out something about her that he'd rather he hadn't, but she doesn't know that, and if I were her, this sudden change in demeanour would have me slowly backing towards the door.

So once it's established that it's obviously Maria doing the dirty work, William goes and intentionally fingers the wrong man (I hate it when the wrong man gets fingered...). And he does this so he can transparently get into her knickers. Actually that's not fair, this is a classier movie than that, I suppose you could say that he's drawn to her in a way he's not used to, and in looking into her mind maybe he feels like he's made more of a connection to her and all that. But the problem with making small movies like this is that often, alot goes unsaid, and sometimes people's actions can feel like they come right out of left-field. So alot of the time you're left to just assume people's motivations for things, and I don't think it makes you a bad person if you assume that a guy who just let a woman he's just met that he's obviously attracted to off a fairly serious crime because he's horny.

He follows her onto a train, they talk some more, and agree to go and get something to eat. I have to say, there's real chemistry between them, they have this warm fondness when they look at each other that you see from people who find each other attractive and enjoy each other's company (and it is possible to have one without the other, believe me). It goes along way to counteract the age difference between them that can play on some people's minds. I've met people who just outright refuse to watch "Lost in Translation," because the find the thought of Bill Murray romancing Scarlett Johansson repulses them, makes their flesh crawl. It's not as extreme here as it was in that movie, Tim Robbins would have been in his mid-fouries when this was filmed as opposed to his early-fifties, and Samantha Morton isn't as young as Johansson was, but I know some people will stii hae a problem with it. To me it also helps that Robbins looks remarkably youthful for a man of his age, whereas Murray... to put it politely, he appears to have lived a hard life.

They go to karaoke bar, which bizarrely has Mick Jones from The Clash up on-stage singing, "Should I Stay or Should I Go?" (I can't decide if this joke is clever or too clever for it's own good). Here William and Maria meet up with one of the people she's sold a Papele to, Damien, who intends to use it to travel to Delhi to study bats. Oddly, William picks this moment to become stern again, parroting what his driver said earlier about how there's usually a very good reason for people not being given permission to go to certain places. I mean, seriously mate, make up your fucking mind. You can't suddenly go all authoritarian. You've already let her off and pretty much defanged yourself in front of her. You gave her a sherbert fountain for her Birthday, for Christ's sake. She even pretty much confirms this when he asks her why she's showing him all this, saying he could have her arrested at a moment's notice, and she just casually says, "You won't." So just chill and have a dance. Oh good, you are.

William ends up back at her apartment, where they keep up up their friendly chatting/flirting. She tells him that one of her figers is younger than all the others because of a childhood accident that caused her to have to grow it back. William jokingly suggests maybe he should have the same thing done to get rid of his old face, but she tells him he doesn't need that done. That's nice. She shows him her moving image scrapbook made up of her memories, including some of her parents. She falls asleep where she's sitting (CHARMING!), he carries her to bed, and she begins to have the train dream... only for him to wake her up with coffee. She get up, and they both start singing Bob Marley's "No Woman, No Cry," her on the toilet at the time, and of course, they have sex. I talked to a friend of mine about this movie, and mentioned this particular bit to him to him as I thought it was profoundly strange, and in his opinion this sounded like the most realistic part of the movie, because, and I quote, "Most women take a piss when they know for a fact that they're going to get laid, so they don't have to stop in the middle." I love my friends.

There are a couple of sex scenes in this movie, and both of them are a bit, well... yuck. The second one is yuck for a couple of additional reasons, but they both share the same basic problems. I think it's the way they're shot, as though we're seeing the act from William's point of view, which in theory should be okay because we get to see none of his obviously gurning face. But the thing is, I don't think Sam Morton really knows how to do sex acting. She's just sort of writhing around almost as if she's in pain, and if something off-shot is biting her legs off. It's really not erotic at all, which would be fine if that were the point, but I don't think it is. If the crtics are to be believed, this scene may have been an indicator of things to come for Michael Winterbottom's career...

They wake up later that night, and William is now quite abrupt and hurriedly getting ready to leave. You could chalk it up to him only having a 24 hour pass, and there's some cuddling between them, but you can clearly tell he just wants to get out of there. And when he gets home, we discover why- not only does he have a son, who he's already mentioned, but he also has... A WIFE! I'll admit that maybe I'm a little naive, but I was actually a bit shocked at this reveal, inwardly going, "OF COOOOOURSE! HE HAS A WIIIIIFE!" I mean, yeah, he'd mentioned the kid, but having a son doesn't mean you have to be married. And of course this information colours the previous sequence of events a bit. Before, he was a guy who found himself strangely drawn to a woman he's just met in a way that confused him. Now he looks a bit like a letch who used his position to get himself some from someone he knew for a fact that he'd never see again. Bad form.

The movie has the sense to realise people may feel this way about the character now, so William is shown attempting to call Maria, only to get no answer, and is also seen looking up information about her and her family on his computer. His virtual stalking is interrupted when he's informed that Damien, the guy he met in the bar with Maria, has been found dead in Delhi. This part of the movie I really like because it portrays the Power That Be as more than just evil megalomanics that want to control everybody. Damien was denied access to Delhi because he had a genetic weakness to Wards Disease, which causes the sufferer to bleed to death. We're told that it's rife in that area of the world, but most of those that live there are immune to it. So there was a real, legitimate reason for him being told, "no." It adds a level of complexity to things that I approve of. It's now obvious that William has fucked up on a rather grand scale, and he's reluctantly sent to bring in Maria.

One problem though- she seems to have disappeared, taken away by oficials due to a "body issue." Using his empathy, he discovers that Maria is pregnant, and has been taken to a clinic "Outside," for violation of Code 46. Almost halfway through this movie and finally the title and all that stuff at the beginning make sense...

... wait... if they've violated Code 46, then that would mean...

... no, I'm not gonna think about that, not until I absolutely have to.

He finds the clinic, only to discover that his empathy is useless here, as the place is filled with "Anti-Viral Bacteria," that cancels it out and also gives him a cold (I like the ideas this movie has, and the way it impliments them), preventing him from guessing the password of the woman on the desk (played in a cameo by Nina Wadia, who UK readers may recognise from "Goodness Gracious Me!" amongst other things). However, instead of turning him away, she tells him, "Here on The Outside, we do not have access to some of the pleasures freely availiable on The Inside." Taking the hint, he tries to bride her, only for her to inform him, "I don't need wealth, I just need... a little encouragment." Now, maybe it's my dirty mind, maybe it's the way she says the line, or maybe it's just the coy-yet-knowing smirks both people have on their faces but... I think she's saying she'll let him in if he has sex with her. And the next scene is his walking around the clinic talking to a doctor, so use your imaginations. This guy.

William is finally taken to see Maria, only to find out that she doesn't remember him. He's finds out that this is due to the fact that, as always happens when Code 46 is accidently breached, the woman is taken into custody, the pregnancy is terminated, and the memory of the person she was with (i.e. William) is removed. Under the guise that he needs her for his investigation, he takes her from the clinic and back to her apartment, where he uses her memory scrapbook to show her that he knows her, that he fell in love with her, and that the memories of him have been taken from her. She freaks out. Who wouldn't? I would. Thought not as much as I'd freak if I discovered what William does next- he takes a sample of Maria's hair to a genetic screening clinic, has it compared with his own, and finds out the inevitable, that they're (gah...) technically related. Worse, she's (GAH!) a 100% genetic match with his mother. Oh dear Lord. His next course of action is to get the fuck out of Dodge immediately, driving to the airport and trying to get on the next plane back home, only to find that he can't leave, as his cover has expired, leaving him with no choice but to ask Maria to get him a forged Papele, which she does with great difficulty, as she's practically been rumbled and relocated to a new position.

On the train to meet him, however, she flashes back to her Birthday dream, and suddenly her memories of him come flooding back. She tells him this, and he decides to use his cover not to go home, but instead to go to a place called Jebel Ali, taking her with him. I'm not sure if I buy this scene, to be honest, it's another point whee we're just left to assume things. For William to go from being so desperate to get back to his family, to deciding that he'd rather be with Maria, just because she remembers him, doesn't ring true to me. I mean, I know he loves her, but it's just such an abrupt turn. In any event, they arrive, do some sightseeing, find a place to stay, and then...

... oh no. Oh nonono. Maria wants them to have sex again. And he want to, too. I think I'm going to be sick. Worse, the people who erased her memories also gave her a virus which would make her physically fight back against having sex with him if they ever tried, which since she's insistant they do so, she gets him to tie her wrists to the headboard of the bed with their belts. So this scene is going to feature, for lack of better words to describe it, the consentual rape of a woman who is genetically the guy's mother, with light bondage thrown in for good meas...

... VAGINA!!!!!



I was just... caught off-guard for a second there, because William just removed Maria's skirt, and there was a long, lingering close-up of Samantha Morton's... vagina. I didn't even know you could do full-frontal in a 15-rated movie. Actually scratch that, I recently saw "Forgetting Sarah Marshall," for the first time, which is also a 15, and was surprised by the amount of Jason Segal's penis that was in it. But still. Anyway, this sex scene's no improvement on the last one, only this one comes with added Oedipus complex. In an interesting twist, the next day it's revealed that the virus comes with a failsafe built into it, which causes the person infected with it to call in and report the offence they've just comitted, and then not want to leave the scene of the crime. Camly, as if accepting his fate, William convinces her to leave, buys a car, and they begin to drive of into the desert, being followed by another car. It's here I was expecting, well, maybe not a big stand-off, but maybe something a bit dramatic, last standish. But that's not what happens at all. What happens is, William and Maria are involved in an accident when he suddenly swerves to avoid people riding camels on the road. That's it, that's the big climax. They're both captured, William has all the memories of Maria erased and is sent back to his family, where he's shown being very happy, and Maria is exiled to The Outside, her memories left intact, as she now no longer matters. The last line of the film is delivered by Maria in voiceover- "I miss you."

I know some people will make it to this point and decide they're never going to watch this movie just because of that ending. And I can understand that, I can understand people thinking it sounds totally unsatifying. Even I'll admit to watching the credit start to role and thinking to myself, "... Huh. Okay. That really is it, then?" But still, I liked this movie. I liked the performances from the two leads, even if I have no idea what kind if an accent Morton was attempting. I liked the cinematography, this really is a beautifully-shot film, even moreso when you take into account that they probably didn't have alot of money to work with. I like the music. I don't talk about music enough in these things, but I'm going to start doing so from now on. The score's great, emotional without being cloying or cliched, and they even manage to use a Coldplay song at the end and not make me want to roll my eyes. I like the version of the furure put across. Most films either go the route of everything being drity and in a state of disrepair, ala "Blade Runner," or go the clean-and-clinical "Brave New World" way. This one takes elements of both, and smooshes them together in a way that seems more realistic. I could believe that this is what the future could be like. But most of all, I liked how... warm this movie feels. Looking at the box are and the title, I expected this to be very detatched, but instead it's a remarkably human story full of love. Love that doesn't win out in the end, but love all the same.



A rare victory for Poundland. Savour it, boys and girls, because I think it's going to be something of a rarity.

Until next week, I'm The Cheap-Arse Film Critic, and forget it Jake, it's Chinatown.


jeffrey said...

I actually had the opportunity to see this film many years ago at a film festival. It's... interesting. I'm torn between saying I liked it or didn't...

Maybe for that reason I should recommend this one as well.

For all of it's flaws, at least this movie gives you an abundance of subject matters to discuss (including, but not limited to, beaver shots).

Link_ said...

I'm pretty sure that somewhere in my blurred sub-conscious that, I've seen this film.

I thought it was pretty good and, after reading your review, I think I'll pay more attention to Poundland DVD collections.

I wonder how much they cost, though?(!)

Sorry, couldn't help myself!

The Cheap-Arse Film Critic said...

I'm really interested to hear from people who've seen this movie, like you two have, because I remember it getting VERY hot and cold reviews at the time.

Mike said...

You had me at full frontal.

Fletch said...

Ok, first of all, you gotta tell me how long it takes you to do one of these write-ups. I mean, wow.

Anyway, I was skimming and saw you'd given the treatment to a couple films I'd never heard of, and then this.

I love Code 46. I think it's vastly, vastly underappreciated. I'm a sucker for films that show us a glimpse of the near-future, and I think this one does it so, so well, and it does it in ways that aren't flashy and didn't call for elaborate effects. As such, it's 1000x more believable.

I'm also a sucker for movies that are in multiple languages and don't take the audience's intelligence or cultural sensitivity for granted (think The Science of Sleep of even Paris, Je t'aime). This one does that, too, combined with the first point about the future. The direction of multi-cultural-ness (I know, not a word) and the blending of multiple languages is beautiful.

The plot, while uncomfortable to be sure, is unique as well. Combined with the appealing leads (I'm a big fan of both Morton and Robbins) and the music and the settings and...

You get the picture. This is one of my favorite films. Glad you caught it, and glad you kept it.

Oh, and you should join the LAMB, already! ;)

The Cheap-Arse Film Critic said...

The amount of time thses take to write sort of depends from review-to-review. Sometimes it takes a fewds, but if I've been lazy and uninspired, I can knock one out in a night.

And I'm seriously considering joining LAMB.