“The past can hold a man. That’s what they say. The past is just a series of moments, each one perfect, complete, a bead on the necklace of the time. The past will haunt us.”
Those are the opening words heard at the beginning of Reminiscence. This intriguing sci-fi thriller with a film-noir undercurrent amid a climate-change disaster scenario is set in a near-future flooded Miami coast. While rich land barons keep safe and dry behind a giant dam, the common folk must deal with the nasty damp byways of the city’s overflowing streets.
Taking advantage of the situation is Hugh Jackman’s Nick Bannister, a muscular veteran of a recent war. His clientele seeks to relive any memory they wish, a way to escape from the water-logged present. Basically, a private investigator of the mind, Nick is lucky enough to have Watts, his loyal assistant (a top-notch, bad-ass Thandiwe Newton) to keep him honest and grounded. He also helps out law enforcers with his methods when it comes to witnesses and criminals.
But echoing Humphrey Bogart’s lady client played by Mary Astor in The Maltese Falcon, a femme fatale named Mae (Rebecca Ferguson) enters his life with the pretense that she lost her keys. Turns out, she is a chanteuse at The Coconut Club. Her signature song? The Rodgers and Hart chestnut, Where or When, whose lyrics are ripe with a sense of déjà vu. Of course, Nick is smitten with Mae and they soon become lovers. Then she suddenly vanishes. That’s when another client’s memories reveal that she has been consorting with some very nasty people and also suffers from a drug addiction.
Don’t be surprised if you get a Christopher Nolan vibe from this set-up. Reminiscence is the big-screen directorial debut of Lisa Joy, who is best known as a showrunner for HBO’s Westworld. She also just happens to be married to Jonathan Nolan, Christopher’s brother and a producer on Reminiscence. Like many of the siblings’ enterprises, keeping track of the film’s narrative can be a bit tricky. That’s especially so in this case, when many of characters on screen aren’t fully fleshed out as well as they could or should be. That said, Jackson’s emotional performance anchors the movie even if the narrative sometimes drifts away.
But the action highlight is a knock-down, dragged-out rooftop rumble between Nick and a burly dirty cop named Cyrus (New Zealand actor Cliff Curtis), whose head and face is horribly scarred. They engage in a punishing fight to the finish that begins on a laundry-filled hotel rooftop and carries on in flooded rooms for countless minutes with various everyday items serving as lethal weapons.
The visuals are intriguingly conceived as are the filmy flashbacks of memories both lost and found. There are few if any laughs to be had, but I must say that I appreciated a snippet of the Soft Cell song Tainted Love that briefly plays during a brawl in a New Orleans bar.