VOD Review: Air
I’ve been looking forward to reviewing this film for some time. The cast is talented. The premise, two technicians tasked with caring for the last survivors of humanity in a bunker with a limited air supply, has built in tension and reminded me of a great series of novels by Hugh Howey, Wool. It was also interesting to see if director Christian Cantamessa could make the leap from making video games to making movies. The final result is a film that shines in places, particularly in the performance of Djimon Hounsou (Guardians of the Galaxy, Gladiator), but is weighed down by inconsistency. It’s the type of film, like Snowpiercer, that is enjoyable while you’re watching it, but completely crumbles to ashes when you analyze it afterwards.
In the wake of an airborne biological attack, the government secretly places hundreds of the brightest scientists and specialists into a converted missile silo to await the all clear sign. Since the virus lingers in the air for generations, all but two technicians are placed into cryogenic sleep. The two techs, Cartwright (Hounsou) and Bauer (Norman Reedus) are placed in limited suspended animation and awoken every 18 months to do maintenance and to check the toxicity of the outside air. One shift a fire breaks out in Cartwright’s sleep pod, and the two must exhaust every means of repairing it or else face a life and death decision about who gets the remaining pod.
The Last Men Alive
Air sports a small but strong cast. Norman Reedus is not much outside of his comfort zone here, as this film is produced by the same group who make The Walking Dead, which stars Reedus. The post-apocalyptic vibe is in his wheel-house, and his character is fairly similar to his role in TWD; he plays a lower class worker who is vaguely sinister and antagonistic, but who reveals himself to be smart and loyal. He’s not doing much new, but he’s proven himself to be engaging in this type of character, and if you like him at all on TWD, you’ll enjoy him here.
Djimon Hounsou elevates his character to another level, and provides the best aspects of this drama. His character is a reliable and moral man, but is hiding a secret that will change the entire narrative, and Hounsou makes this twist believable. Cartwright is also mentally fragile, being both claustrophobic and prone to imaginary conversations with a mysterious woman (Sandrine Holt). Hounsou manages to turn a TV cliche into a strong performance, balancing the forthright aspects of Cartwright with the growing mania that threatens the entire silo.
The Writing’s on the Wall
The premise of the plot is engaging, but often predictable. The director likes to foreshadow future events, often with noticeable signs drawing attention to places or actions that will become important. It happens so often, you get distracted when it doesn’t happen. Reedus spends a good portion of his first scene looking for cigarettes, and you wonder why it never figures into the plot. Both doors marked with inspirational posters become meaningful, but a release valve that is mentioned and shown comes to nothing. It seems the director knew he was giving away a lot of little clues and decided to throw some red herrings in to keep the audience guessing. So much of the plot hinges on the heroes recalling having seen something that may save them, it becomes a distraction to be shown items and places that end up having no utility to the plot.
The driving tension of the piece is the limited air supply and the omnipresent clocks that show how much time is left till the air and power go out. For the first half of the film, it feels like precious minutes slip away in an eye-blink, but as the plot reaches its climax the clock seems stuck. It’s the old cannard of the terrorist’s bomb that shows 60 seconds but takes 15 minutes of film time to go off. We watch 2 hours of air disappear in 45 minutes while 15 minutes of air takes half an hour when the stakes are at their highest. If you’re going to have a clock ticking away, you have to be consistent. It is a source of false tension and pulls us out of the immersion. We realize that the rules of the game are being constantly changed to accommodate twists and turns in the plot.
Everything Falls Apart
Air is enjoyable, faults aside, during the vast majority of the run time. The pace keeps the tension high, and there are constantly new things being revealed to maintain your attention. Except for one major twist, most of the reveals seem natural. That final twist has both protagonists act against their own interests and out of character, and feels completely inserted for dramatic purposes. Otherwise, the proceedings felt organic.
The setting of the action is stark but interesting. We constantly visit more and more of the facility, and the visuals are decent and create a consistent tone to the film. This is a hastily made solution to a problem, and the techs have their hands full trying to keep the sinking ship on course. As they race against the inconstant clock, you get the sense that the real threat is from the implacable forces that surround the bunker. It would have been fun to see the technical troubles that assail them happen over multiple shifts, just to get a sense of how long these two have to struggle to keep the last survivors alive.
Gasping for Air
Air is a decent sci-fi thriller done minimally that collapses on itself in the final half hour. At no point did I want to stop watching it, and I really loved the performances. Had the last twist not appeared, I would have been much more positive about the whole film. As it is, Air explores some interesting territory and is worth a view for fans of either actor, or fans of minimalist sci-fi. Watching two people who don’t necessarily like or trust each other have to create solutions to impossible problems on the fly was engaging. At the end of the day, the film did enough things right that I was glad to have seen it finally, and many of the logical inconsistencies don’t become apparent until after the film has finished, allowing you to slip into the experience.