Reminiscence review: A disappointing climate crisis dystopia that’s little more than film noir pastiche

Hugh Jackman and Thandiwe Newton are two hard-drinking war veterans running away from their pasts, but some clever near-future conceits can’t save this feature debut from ‘Westworld’ co-creator Lisa Joy

Reminiscence trailer

Dir: Lisa Joy. Starring: Hugh Jackman, Rebecca Ferguson, Thandiwe Newton, Cliff Curtis. Cert 12A, 116 mins

The look of modern, high-concept sci-fi owes much to the creative (and personal) triumvirate of Christopher Nolan, Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy. Joy created HBO’s sleek, steel-toothed remake of Westworld alongside her husband Jonathan. His brother, Christopher, is responsible for the reality-bending blockbusters Inception and Tenet. There’s a mutual language here – of pristine cities and landscapes that feel so tangible as a predicted future that it’s uncanny, like we’ve been given a glimpse of something that we shouldn’t have. These are places, too, populated by hollow-souled individuals fighting hard not to lose that last scrap of humanity to total technological domination.

But the odd thing about Reminiscence, Joy’s feature debut, is how fluent it can be in that style while replicating so little of what actually made it successful. It’s visually inviting, but as flimsy as a paper doll in its themes. Reminiscence’s future is the one waiting right around the corner for us, as confirmed by last week’s devastating IPCC report; an environmental apocalypse, where many of the world’s major cities have been swallowed up by the ocean. Miami now barely clings to existence. A part of the population has settled into the upper, exposed floors of its tower blocks, navigating between them on boats – a makeshift Venice born out of desperation.

Nick Bannister (Hugh Jackman) lives in the part of the city still kept (relatively) dry by a vast expanse of dams. He owns a medical practice of sorts, where patients can hop into a machine that not only allows them to relive past memories, but projects them onto a holographic screen which he can then scour for clues to any unanswered questions. It’s a fitting premise for Joy, whose previous writing work on Westworld, as well as the TV series Pushing Daisies and Burn Notice, has frequently seen her tackle ideas of memory, reality and identity. But Reminiscence isn’t pitched simply as sci-fi, it’s a sci-fi working as a film noir homage, presented under the admittedly clever conceit that rising temperatures have turned the population nocturnal.

We learn Mae (Rebecca Ferguson) is a chanteuse and, perfectly on cue, she steps out in a va va voom Jessica Rabbit dress

All this worldbuilding, shot with reverence by cinematographer Paul Cameron, serves a story that’s ultimately nothing but pastiche. Jackman is the Humphrey Bogart-type, trapped in a cycle of hard-boiled monologues (“it’s us that haunts the past”) that come off as surlier than his Wolverine. He becomes consumed by an obsession over the mysterious woman that strolls into his practice one day. With her Veronica Lake hair and hooded cloak, Rebecca Ferguson’s Mae is a futuristic cousin to Kim Basinger in LA Confidential. Then we learn she’s a chanteuse and, perfectly on cue, she steps out in a va va voom Jessica Rabbit dress. The pair barely fall in love before she disappears without a trace.

Both Nick and his assistant, the hard-drinking Watts (Thandiwe Newton), are veterans of a past climate-fuelled war, and Reminiscence seems half-interested in how their mutual guilt over those they killed and tortured has warped their relationship with memory. For Watts – and Newton makes as strong an impression here as she did in Westworld, spitting words out like bullets – that means running away from the past and into a bottle. For Nick, there’s a Gatsby-ish determination to repeat it and keep hold of his dream woman. But as he chases after Mae’s shadow, Joy only leans further into the femme fatale trope by giving her a sketchy, criminal past. There’s no surprise to Reminiscence. No subversion. All that it really ends up being about is a mildly delusional man slowly learning that women are, in fact, complicated.

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