Sundance Review: Sam Rockwell Lights Up ‘Moon’


Heading into Moon, the Sam Rockwell led low-budget science fiction film from first time director Duncan Jones, I was both excited and skeptical. It is easy after all, to be skeptical of any low-budget, ambitious science fiction film. Especially when it takes place entirely on the surface of the moon. There we find Sam Bell, the caretaker of the Sarang mining station owned by the Lunar Corporation. Upon meeting him, we find that he’s been stationed there for almost three years, keeping the station up and running. And as he prepares for the final days of his contract and his eventual return home, his mental state deteriorates, leading to an accident that sets in motion a series of events that completely unhinge everything that he thought to be real.

Without getting into spoilerish detail, I will say that the film continues down a path that explores a range of themes, everything from human genetic manipulation to corporate ethics, as well as the effects of spending three straight years in a solitary confinement on the surface of the moon. Filled with darkness and a cleverly crafted arc, Moon is one of those films that is very impressive, especially because it was made on a small, independent budget. Writer/Director Duncan Jones and co-writer Nathan Parker have crafted a story that moves well and doesn’t become estranged from the science part of fiction. From there, Jones and crew crafted a simple set with a distinctively retro aesthetic, one that calls back to classic sci-fi films such as Ridley Scott’s Aliens — which was also shot at Shepperton Studios, where Jones chose to shoot his film.  As well, Jones appears to expertly squeeze every dollar out of his expectedly small visual effects budget, creating an overall production value that is both impressive in its scale and its authenticity.

Of course, none of the film’s aesthetic and story elements would work without a brilliant performance from Sam Rockwell, who spends more time on screen than you would expect. And as he’s done so many time before, Rockwell delivers a fabulous performance. This being on of his more demanding roles, a character that experiences such a wide range of emotions and mental states, Rockwell brings both subtle sadness and vibrant life to the role. Delivering a performance with such range is something that is rare, but as you know it isn’t such a rare occurrence for Rockwell.

While not perfect by any means, Moon is yet another impressive work of independent science fiction. In which we have a young director with an ambitious vision, a perfectly cast lead and the creativity to bring it to life without having to work on a Michael Bay-sized budget. It reminds me a lot of Danny Boyle’s Sunshine — even though Sunshine had a much glossier feel — in that it builds off of a simple premise and goes to a place that is very unique and unexpected. As well, if there is any reason to see this movie, it is that you should once again behold the brilliance that is Sam Rockwell. The man gives a remarkable performance, taking the film from a well-executed indie to a potentially very memorable entry into the sci-fi genre. It is a trip at times, but it never gets out of hand as so many sci-fi flicks have done in the past. As well, the attentive moviegoer will be able to tune in quite easily to Moon’s larger agenda, its use of more classical sci-fi tropes to make a strong statement about the potential future of corporate culture and genetic manipulation. But if you’re not into decrypting all of that, it’s a pretty cool space movie, too.

Grade: A

Neil Miller is the Founder and Publisher of Film School Rejects. For almost a decade, he has been talking movies on television, the radio, and the Internet. As of yet, no one has stopped him.

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