REVIEW: Even with Jackman, ‘Reminiscence’ fails to fulfill its compelling premise

Boyce Rucker, Intern

Notably, science fiction is a genre that’s able to be mixed with several other genres, such as comedy, action, romance and thriller. Most sci-fi films are blended with subgenres in order to explore both societal and philosophical themes that provoke intrigue and in-depth analysis from viewers. 

Released in theaters and to HBO Max, Lisa Joy’s “Reminiscence” carries a neo-noir narrative that takes place in a dystopian setting and explores the concept of memories. While the film takes cues from sci-fi films like “Blade Runner” and “Total Recall,” a more recent work that the film can be compared to is Christopher Nolan’s “Inception.” That comparison wouldn’t be too inaccurate as Lisa Joy happens to be the sister-in-law of Christopher Nolan and the co-creator of HBO’s sci-fi drama “Westworld.” While “Reminiscence” carries an intriguing premise and shows promise given the previous works of the talent involved, its execution leaves much to be desired.

Hugh Jackman in “Reminiscence” (2021). (Lisa Joy/FilmNation Entertainment )

Set in the climate change-induced ocean-flooded future Miami, the film follows Nick Bannister (Hugh Jackman), a private investigator and the owner of a clinic that allows clients to enter a machine and relive past memories of their choice. Bannister’s world changes when he meets a mysterious client named Mae (Rebecca Ferguson), with who he begins a romance shortly after. After being in a relationship with her for months, she suddenly disappears one day without a trace or warning. With help from his assistant Watts (Thandiwe Newton), Bannister dives into the city’s criminal underworld, of the city, and uncovers memories of the past, in order to uncover the mystery behind Mae’s disappearance.

The film’s narrative leans more into the noir aspect than it does its sci-fi themes. Bannister is a standard protagonist who feeds into the clichés of the classical noir hero archetype, such as his war backstory from being in a war, the ease in how he’s smitten by Mae, the femme fatale, and his voiceover narration. Similarly, the supporting characters all function as noir archetypes that lack depth and don’t quite feel as unique as the world around them. 

As the archetypes feel familiar and unoriginal, the story itself begins to feel very predictable by its second act and loses its intrigue at that point. The theme revolving around memory acts as a selling point for the film in its advertisements, but it isn’t deeply explored within the film and comes off as being just a simple gimmick to advance the plot. On the other hand, the film’s dystopian take on Miami is interesting and deserving of more world-building that perhaps a follow-up to this film could offer. Without a thorough exploration of its themes and characters, “Reminiscence” ends up being forgettable in the pantheon of high-concept sci-fi films.  

Thandiwe Newton and Hugh Jackman in “Reminiscence” (2021). (Lisa Joy/FilmNation Entertainment )

The cast itself is solid, but the performers aren’t given much to do to add depth or nuance to their characters. After taking a break from leading roles in action and sci-fi films, the character of Bannister is a return to form for Jackman. Jackman’s performance makes Bannister into a likable character and one that audiences can root for; however, the characterization of Bannister doesn’t really stand out on paper as it’s solely Jackman who elevates the character with his signature charm and charisma. Ferguson portrays Mae with a great level of intrigue, similar to that of her character in the “Mission Impossible” series, that helps drive the film’s narrative despite how predictable it may be by the end. While the film could have benefitted from more scenes that feature a natural development between Jackman and Ferguson’s characters, the scenes that the two do share highlight strong chemistry between them and serves as a more interesting aspect of the film. Newton’s Watts serves almost as a sidekick to Bannister, but the backstory to her character is an emotional one that is performed well by Newton in the brief instances that her past is alluded to. As can be expected from any onscreen duo, the banter between Jackman and Newton offers a light sense of humor to the film. 

Rebecca Ferguson and Hugh Jackman in “Reminiscence” (2021). (Lisa Joy/FilmNation Entertainment )

For a sci-fi film, the production design seems lacking in some areas. The setting of a war-torn Miami that’s been affected by climate change global warming is intriguing by itself, but the film doesn’t carry an atmosphere that makes the setting feel more definitive. On the other hand, the score composed by Ramin Djawadi (composer of “Game of Thrones” and “Westworld”) is fitting for the film’s noir story even though it may not pack the same punch as his more notable work. Furthermore, the film’s short-lived action sequences feel out of place and insignificant in the film’s slow-burn narrative to the point where viewers could easily look away from the screen for just a moment and not realize that any action took place.       

Overall, “Reminiscence” is a decent noir film that’s elevated by the performance of Hugh Jackman, but it doesn’t delve deeply enough into its science fiction concepts to be memorable. “Reminiscence” can be seen as a tribute to the classical noir and sci-fi films that came before it, but it doesn’t carry much substance that allows it to stand out on its own.