Paycheck

Starring Ben Affleck, Uma Thurman. Directed by John Woo.
Running Time:
Rated: MA 15+

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 villlains. 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.


Fr Peter Malone MSC is the International President of SIGNIS: the World Association for Catholic Communications and an Associate of the Australian Catholic Film Office.

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