Movie Reviews & Interviews from Washington

‘Transcendence’ Review: Starring Johnny Depp, Rebecca Hall & Paul Bettany

It’s always tricky when a successful cinematographer or producer takes the director’s chair on a movie. Wally Pfister, who is Christopher Nolan’s trusted cinematographer and has shot all of his films from 2000’s Memento to 2012’s The Dark Knight Rises, takes the director’s seat for the first time in Transcendence. A film so full of science fiction subject matter and dramatic scenes, it seems that this would be the perfect subject matter that fits with the cinematographer’s expertise.

We all know that Pfister can tell a story through gorgeous visuals, but can he bring a screenplay to life and develop that emotional aspect of the story that films so desperately need? The answer is yes and no. First-time screenwriter Jack Paglen’s story is definitely an intriguing one and it’s led by incredible talent, but the screenplay never reaches an appropriate level of emotional connection to the audience and that’s where the film fails. Christopher Nolan and his wife served as executive producers of the film, but he could have really helped in the editing process as the film feels overlong and drawn out, especially in its first half.

Dr. Will Caster (Johnny Depp) is researcher in Artificial Intelligence and is working to create a preeminent machine that can transcend the abilities of the human brain. He, his wife Evelyn (Rebecca Hall) and best friend Max (Paul Bettany) are fellow researchers also working on the same project that will greatly alter the future of technology.

Because of their research in advance technology, Will has become a main target of a terrorist group led by anti-technology extremist Bree (Kate Mara). One day after Will gives a speech, a terrorist member shoots him with a bullet laced with poison and doctors give him only a few weeks to live. Evelyn and Max must decide if they want to test their research and machine on Will, in order to transcend his mind into the computer so his intelligence will live on. The problem is if they can even manage to do it and if they can, what lies in store for the future as Will gains more intelligence and power.

Johnny Depp, in his most normal role since perhaps 2010’s The Tourist, is wonderful as our lead character both on and off the screen. The scenes where he was speaking through the computer were shot in live-time, meaning Rebecca Hall had an ear piece listening to him speak to her, while Depp was in another room speaking the lines. Though Depp is the center of the story, it’s Hall that carries the film from beginning to end. Her character isn’t really all that likable, in fact, she comes off as a little crazy, but Hall gives everything she’s got in her scenes.

Obviously the visuals are stunning and though Pfister didn’t shoot the movie himself, its apparent that he had a lot to do with setting up the shots. The interior scenes of the lab, where Rebecca Hall’s character is walking down stark white halls as the camera slowly follows her to the desert scenes where silver particles begin to float up in the air look magnificent.

Transcendence leaves several plot holes, partly due to a scattered screenplay and poor editing, but on the other hand Pfister’s directorial debut is visually stunning and anchored by strong performances, especially from Johnny Depp and Rebecca Hall.

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