‘Reminiscence’ movie review: Hugh Jackman’s sci-fi film wallows in melodrama; Thandiwe Newton deserves more screen time

Bowen Chan
  • Set in a dystopian Miami submerged under rising sea levels, the film follows Nick Bannister (Hugh Jackman) as he searches the past for the truth about a former lover
  • The idea of being able to go back in time is alluring, but this film fails its star-studded cast with its overstuffed plotlines
Bowen Chan |

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Thandiwe Newton (left) and Hugh Jackman star in “Reminiscence”. Photo: Kilter Films

At least once, we’ve all wished we could go back in time to revisit a memory or two. Perhaps the time when you said farewell to your friend who was going overseas, or when you took the first bite of a perfect doughnut.

Well, the film Reminiscence – directed, produced and written by Lisa Joy (known for producing the Emmy-winning series Westworld) – takes that concept and tries its best to spin a story out of it. Regrettably, however, the straggling plot seems like it was mostly derived from tired and melodramatic neo-noir/sci-fi tropes.

“The past can haunt a man.” The film opens with this line, issued by the calm voice of Nick Bannister (Hugh Jackman). As the camera rises, we see a city skyline nearly submerged beneath a sapphire ocean.

Because of climate change, Miami (where the story is set) is mostly flooded, save for a few areas cushioned by ocean walls, and it is unbearably hot in the day, so the city is mostly nocturnal. This is one of the better themes to come from the plot – it is a grim but honest portrayal of the effect of greenhouse gases and rising oceans.

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Nick introduces himself as a private eye who uses a machine to navigate his customers’ minds and answer their questions about the past. He runs this business with his friend and ex-military partner, Emily “Watts” Sanders (Thandiwe Newton). Nick and Watts keep their clients’ core and most-visited memories inside a safe.

The excitement truly starts when Mae (Rebecca Ferguson) ventures coyly into Nick and Watts’ abode, asking if she can use their fancy gadgets to retrieve a set of keys that she lost. Nick is instantly bewitched by her as he follows her through her memories, listening to her sultry vocals as she performs at one of the many nightclubs dotted across dystopian Miami.

Mae, played by Rebecca Ferguson (left), instantly captivates Nick Bannister (Hugh Jackman). Photo: Kilter Films

This leads to a romantic relationship between the two of them, but after just a few months, she disappears as suddenly as she had arrived. Nick subsequently becomes obsessed with her disappearance and embarks on a journey to find her using the memories she has left behind.

The plot then stays mostly stationary until the third act, when Saint Joe (Daniel Wu), a drug lord connected to Mae’s past, and Cyrus Boothe (Cliff Curtis), a corrupt policeman with a questionable conscience, are unceremoniously crammed into the story.

Daniel Wu plays Saint Joe, a drug lord, in “Reminiscence”. Photo: Courtesy of Warner Bros

All in all, the main concept of Reminiscence is fascinating – the power to revisit memories will always be alluring. But the idea that a man would give up everything just to chase after a woman with whom he had a temporary romance was just too much of a dramatic stretch. Other than that, the film didn’t have any special themes, save for something vague about how people can be more than what meets the eye.

The movie severely undermined the potential of its spectacular cast. Specifically, Watts deserved more screen time, even as a subplot, instead of Nick and Mae’s unnecessarily convoluted romantic getaways which were scattered lavishly throughout the story.

The film wasn’t particularly enjoyable, but could be palatable for anyone who likes dramatic lighting and a gritty storyline.

This film contains depictions of violence and substance abuse.

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