US, 2003, 119 minutes, Colour.
Ben Affleck, Aaron Eckhart, Uma Thurman, Paul Giamatti, Colm Feore, Joe Morton, Michael C. Hall, Kathryn Morris.
Directed by John Woo.
There are probably two potential audience groups for this futuristic thriller, approaching from opposite angles. The first are those who have the writer, Philip K.Dick, on a pedestal and admire some of the film versions made of his stories. The best known are Blade Runner and Minority Report. Imposter is much less well-known. They will be looking forward to what the film has to say about the future, how significant the developments of technology will be and how we will control them or they will control us, or be exploited by the greedy and the powerful (themes obvious in Minority Report). While Dick wrote the story, Paycheck, in 1953 and he died in 1982, his awareness of the manipulation of the human brain and the memory are quite up-to-date. The other group will be those attracted by the director, John Woo. They will have his Hong Kong action shows in mind and be recalling Face/Off and Mission Impossible 2; they will be anticipating stunts, chases and special effects.
What will they find? The answer is, 'both'. And this answer may satisy neither. The first part of the film is intriguing science fantasy. What if memories could be erased (in order to help national security and the theft of ideas) and the subject of experimentation (or espionage) could be cleaned, ready to return to normal life or be used again. Ben Affleck brings his square jaw and determination to this kind of character. The moral issue is: what if he sees something unethical during his work and knows that this will be erased? How can he ensure that when he remembers nothing, he will be able to combat the evil. This is the science fantasy of induced amnesia and its dangerous consequences.
Once Affleck starts to probe what it is he wanted to destroy, the film takes on a more Woo-oriented actin mode. Once the chases start, the explosions follow and the utter mayhem takes over the film, the Dick afficionados will be feeling let down by an action exploitation of their interests. The Woo fans will be excited that at last the movie is getting going.
Aaron Eckhart and Colm Feore are deceitfully smiling villains. Uma Thurman has learnt an action move or two from Kill Bill and is a vigorous lead. Paul Giammati gives another of his versatile supporting performances as the hero's friend.
My preference was for the Dick insights rather than the action which seemed too much, too silly at times, for the more interesting and serious themes.
1. The popularity of the stories by Philip K. Dick, his themes, the future? Science fiction? The many film versions of his stories? This film in that tradition?
2. The work of John Woo, his treatment of the story, the emphasis on action?
3. The title, the reference to the money, motivation? Power? The invention, foreseeing the future? The issues of war, knowing the future and manipulation, money markets? Pessimism? The comment on human nature?
4. Seattle, the American city, the visuals? The interiors, the offices, the laboratories? Michael and his life and style, ideas, the 3D process, his working with it, succeeding in a few months? The past with Jimmy, friendship? The company? The demonstration, his agreeing to the process of giving three years to investigations?
5. The press conference, the 3D woman? Rita, meeting Michael, the kiss? His being taken to the laboratory, the stealing of his memories, the blocking out of memories? Shorty, supervising the work, the dangers of the transformation, temperatures? Jimmy and his observations, Wolfe and his role?
6. Michael and his agreement, going to the laboratory, Wolfe and the needle, the injection? The three years suddenly passing? His having no memory? His waking, discovering the time, going to search for his payment, going to the bank, the official refusing, the envelope, the signed document renouncing the money, the mysterious 20 items in the envelope?
7. Michael, realising that he had been deceived? The items as clues to what he was to do? Calling Shorty, then meeting, the restaurant? The threats and attacks? From the company? From the FBI?
8. The FBI, the goals, the weapons, the chase? The interrogation of Michael, the agent believing him? The superiors and secrecy and wanting to get the information about the machine? The agents themselves? The action of the car chases? The bike? Eluding pursuers?
9. Michael and the items, pondering them, the snatching of the ring and his pursuit of the thief, finding the building, entering? The realisation that he had been working on a machine to see the future?
10. The previous encounter with Rachel, the attraction, her biological work? The false Rachel coming to meet him at the cafe, trying to trap him, controlled by the machine in her ear from Jimmy and Wolfe?
11. The true Rachel, realising what it happened, going to meet Michael, warning him, the pursuit, the bike, the ride? Her helping him? The video and Michael not knowing anything of the relationship for the past three years? And his working with Rachel?
12. Michael and his determination to close down the machine? The visuals of what the machine could do, war in the future?
13. The confrontation with Jimmy, megalomaniac, Wolfe and his looking at the machine, wanting to take it over?
14. Michael in the building, the help of Rachel, the pursuit, the dangers, the action sequences and stunts? Rachel being cut off, attacked? Michael, the machine, the confrontation with Wolfe? With Jimmy? Closing it down?
15. The details of the items in the envelope, subway passes, keys, paperclip and its use to close down the subway while Wolfe was pursuing them? The lottery ticket, the winnings – and finding the actual ticket and Michael, Rachel and Shorty being able to share the money?
16. A new way of life Rachel and the garden plants, Michael working with her?