Monday 2 January 2017

Film Review: Passengers

What would you do if you were alone in space for your entire life? That's the question posed by Passengers, an original sci-fi film directed by Morten Tyldum and starring Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt.

Passengers opens aboard the Avalon, a luxury spaceship careening through the cosmos; it's mission is to safely transport 5,000 people in hypersleep across the galaxy to a colony in a journey that will take 120 years.

For reasons I won't spoil, two of the passengers - Jim Preston (Pratt) and Aurora Lane (Lawrence) - find themselves awoken from their sleep pods 90 years too early and are faced with spending the rest of their lives in each others company. Together they must find out why they woke up and save the ship from destruction.

Passengers is a strange film; it opens up a lot of tough moral quandaries but chooses to sidestep any definitive answer for fear of hampering its own broad appeal. It structures its narrative in such a way that the conventional 'plot twist' is traded for ongoing dramatic irony. Rather than framing the 'isolated in space' premise as a thriller or a horror, it's an intimate romance for the first two-thirds before transitioning into a full-blown disaster action movie in the final 30 minutes.

Strangely, it's also a movie where the entire marketing campaign is framed around concealing a key plot detail...from the first act. Every trailer has kept something pivotal underwraps, instead choosing to focus on the action-heavy third act. At best it's a clever ploy; at worst it's straight-up misleading and deceitful. You can decide for yourself.

Even with a plot riddled with so many fundamental flaws, both Pratt and Lawrence still shine. They share tangible chemistry that offers the occasional flash of brilliance amongst the haphazard narrative. Lawrence in particular is great, showing that outside the X-Men series, she has undeniable acting chops that really sell the more emotional beats.

Pratt (at times) feels a little miscast and bears the brunt of the ill-conceived plot contrivances. Sorry if that sounds a little vague - it's very difficult to talk about Passengers without revealing the big twist that effectively takes the wind out of its sails.

Which is a crying shame because most of the other technical aspects are stellar; Thomas Newman's score is superb and you can bet your ass I'm going to be listening to it on repeat. The cinematography is eye-catching, the production design is sleek and distinctive. Almost every aspect of the movie is polished and pleasing - except for the plot. I'm not going to sugarcoat it, there are some really serious issues with the plot that are too big to ignore. With some tweaks, maybe it could have worked better - but the finished product is an odd breed that tries to be too many things and forgets the moral implications of its actions.

The Verdict: 6/10

A misguided script doesn't do Lawrence or Pratt any favours; she fares far better than he does whilst Tyldum's direction is nothing to write home about. Production value is a big selling point but the troubled narrative often distracts from the good stuff.

Passengers is in cinemas across Australia now


  1. I feel the same way as you Rhys! On one hand, this was an enjoyable (if not a little silly) drama, but on the other hand I feel robbed because of how misleading the movie's tagline is!

    1. This has been circling my head again since watching a video essay on YouTube about how poorly the narrative was structured - such a fundamental error that would have instantly improved the whole film!



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