RAMBO + E.T. + Alien 2 + CNN = formula for brain-melting awesomeness.
District 9 is the very best film I've seen in years. Yes, years. Going in, I thoroughly expected Neill Blomkamp to deliver a hell of a film. But not this good. District 9 delivers on all fronts, firing on all cylinders, nailing every mark. It's emotional. It's visceral. It's action-packed. It has stomach-churning suspense. And most delightfully surprising of all, it's punctuated with little doses of heartwarming zest, the likes of which film legend Steven Spielberg provided for our families in E.T. nearly 30 years ago.
For those of you who somehow dodged the machine-gun fire of advertising for District 9, I didn't know much more than you do about the film before I saw it. As the trailer states, "There are a lot of secrets in District 9." And it's best left that way. Blomkamp does a great job of easing you into the state of affairs and periodically leaves little morsels of information along your trail, leading your unblinking eyes to the exhilarating conclusion.
The opening segments introduce you to a sci-fi plot that might come off silly if it weren't for Blomkamp’s brilliant grasp of subtlety coupled with liberal use of a live newscast film style. The gritty, unapologetic realism of it all is absorbing. It's the kind of escape you get so lost in that the theater around you disappears along with your plans for tomorrow and the world you once lived in – because now you are in this world.
You are there with creatures so photo-realistic you resist the urge to reach out and touch the rigid surface of their exoskeletons. You are there, wincing at the smell of burning garbage and muck-ridden dirt roads. You are there, laughing at the odd curiosity of beings ignorant to the trivialities of our world and the funny ways they interact. Before you know it, you are caring deeply for the fate of something not human. You are resenting humanity and perhaps even feel twinges of shame spark up and down your spine. You feel disgusted by our intolerance of difference.
These feelings are tugged along, hook and chain, by a superb leading performance from Sharlto Copley, a man lacking the resume of your typical A-lister, but giving any one of them something to be impressed with. Copley's character, Wikus, begins the story as a blissfully ignorant pawn of the MNU, ready to take on his duty with the giddy pride of an elementary school teacher’s pet. An event, which I will not spoil, shatters his world, and you will watch as Copley unleashes a desperate emotional struggle under his unfortunate circumstances that is both genuine and gripping.
Without giving away any other tasty bombshells, District 9 has a plethora of surprises in store for you. It’s one of the few films that doesn’t show you everything in the trailers and expects you to be wowed when you see it for the hundredth time again in the theater. One fair warning, if I must, is that you’d better come with a poncho. The only thing that sprays more exploding juice is Gallagher, but District 9 is way more fun and you won’t have to bring a change of clothes. Well, unless you pee your pants from sheer excitement.
District 9 is the most exciting and unique film this year so far. For this reviewer, it will go down as one of the greatest sci-fi installments of all time. Blomkamp proves that there is still room for originality in Hollywood. He proves that you can be poignant and daringly artistic while still dishing out a cacophony of crowd-pleasing action. Finally, it is proof that there are still many creative risks to be taken and plenty of exceptional films to be made.