SWAN SONG – Review by Martha K Baker

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Some films are just plot fodder, some lift up characters. Some represent a genre, and when that type usually has little appeal, the film has to call you with something else that makes watching seductive. Swan Song is that film. It nestles into the world of science fiction, and if that’s a type you ordinarily avoid like the plague, here is a reason to watch it: Mahershala Ali.

Ali has lit the screen often in his career. He’s acted in television’s True Detective and in the franchise of Hunger Games and the thriller House of Cards. Two of his movie roles have netted Oscars: Ali appeared in Moonlight but 20 minutes, 20 unforgettable minutes as a drug dealer; Green Book gave him a chance to show his mettle in another supporting role. However, gratefully, Swan Song lifts him into the leads in which he plays two versions of the protagonist.

Ali plays Cameron and Jack. And here’s the sci-fi part: Cameron is dying and Jack is the clone who’s going to take his place as husband and father to the wife and son who do not know that he is dying. Cameron has to decide to keep his roll-over secret, which means no good-byes as he assuages his wife’s grief. Jack will keep Cameron’s memories as he takes over his place. Ali plays both parts with quiet fortitude. It is a pleasure to watch him hold out and forth.

It’s also pleasurable to watch Naomi Harris (Mandela) play Cameron’s wife and Awkwafina (Crazy Rich Asians) act as another patient of the doctor, played firmly by Glenn Close.

But there’s another reason to watch Swan Song even if you do not cotton to science fiction: the film moves at a stately pace as directed by Benjamin Cleary, the Irishman who also wrote the imaginative script. There is no rushing in this story, only determined deliberating. Swan Song captures attention by that focused concentration but mostly through Mahershala Ali’s very presence on the screen in both roles.

If the thought of sitting through an entire work of science fiction gives you the willies, watch just enough of Swan Song to admire Mahershala Ali’s talent.

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Martha K. Baker (Archived Contributor)

I first taught film at Lakeland College in Wisconsin in 1969 and became a professional film reviewer in 1976 in St. Louis, Mo. Through the years, I have reviewed films for the St. Louis Business Journal, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Episcopal Life, and KWMU (NPR), among other outlets. I've reviewed at KDHX radio, my current outlet, for nearly 20 years.