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2009, Duncan Jones

Very good flick that treats both its characters and the audience with respect. The still somehow not a moviestar Sam Rockwell is Sam Bell, the lone employee at a mining operation on the surface of the moon. We learn in the opening that a new compound has been discovered in the moon rocks, a valuable element that can be turned into a new and plentiful energy source back on Earth. Sam has been up there for quite a while, almost three years. But his contract is finally expiring. Adding to his isolation is a faulty communications system that doesn't allow for live video messages, only recordings back and forth. His one companion is a friendly and helpful cousin of the HAL-9000 from Kubrick's 2001, a computer system he interacts with (voiced by Kevin Spacey). Sam is getting excited about his long-awaited return to terra firma below...but in the final days before his scheduled trip home to his wife and young daughter some strange and troubling things start happening.

That basic set-up could have led to any number of stories for the last two thirds of the narrative, anything from aliens to schizophrenia to robot doubles or an elaborate dream or any combination thereof. The script seems very aware of the many possibilities. Happily we don't get a build to a lame would-be M. Night big twist revelation or a transplanted Western or Monster Movie in space. What follows in Moon is something terribly refreshing: instead of a drawn-out mystery, the answer to the strange goings on unfolds about forty-five minutes in, with the character and the audience both in on it. Rather than drain the suspense from the flick, it allows for a different and deeper kind of exploration, not a 'what in the Hell is going on here?' puzzle but a 'how would I deal with these issues if I woke up with the same realization?', with first person audience participation. It's more akin to Cast Away by way of Silent Runnings than a more standard action-oriented genre piece or thriller full of jump scares.

Without giving away more details, Sam Rockwell gives yet another grade-A performance, and his empathetic portrayal in the convoluted premise makes it very compelling. Its also a movie that follows its own internal logic instead of cheating in major or minor ways to make plot points work. It's a wonderful surprise feature debut from director and co-writer Duncan Jones, the name-shifting oldest child and only son of icon David Bowie (originally named Zowie Bowie, later changed to Joey Bowie, and now reverting back to his Dad's birth surname). It definitely signals the thirty-eight-year-old Jones as a talent to watch. And if people still don't know how talented Rockwell is...well, shame on them. Whether or not a character-driven low-key emotional human drama with Sci-Fi window dressing will play in a summer of exploding robot battles remains to be seen, but it's the most satisfying and interesting movie I've seen in months.