1999; Rated R; 111 Minutes
Armin Mueller-Stahl: Hannon Fuller
Craig Bierko: Douglas Hall
Vincent D'Onofrio: Ashton
Gretchen Mol: Jane Fuller
Produced by Roland Emmerich, Ute Emmerich and Marco
Weber; Directed by Josef Rusnak; Screenwritten
by Josef Rusnak and Ravel Centeno-Rodriguez
by DAVID KEYES
someone shouts "this sucks" toward the theater screen, chances
are you're dealing with a pretty terrible film. Sure, the
same conclusion applies if a movie puts one to sleep, but
there's quite a big difference from being unconscious and
shouting words out at the top of your lungs. Typically,
you'd find viewers passed out at movies that are dull or
boring. These are what you call 'dead-zones.' Films that
can generate the anger in a viewer to yell and cuss and
throw tantrums at the screen are likely films with impelling
plots but disappointing payoffs. In any case, the audience
was sure of how this particular viewer felt during the final
moments of Josef Rusnak's "The Thirteenth Floor." Had the
movie been more complex, or ridiculous, I could just imagine
the other words that could have come out of his mouth.
like "The Thirteenth Floor" strike a match under occupied
theater seats: sometimes you feel so inflamed with anger
and dislike that the mouth becomes a cannon without ammunition.
Words rush by our lips without realization or care. Why
is that? Because the movie is ridiculously complex. The
director's ramblings are odd, philosophical, intelligent,
fascinating, and sometimes so empty and plain that you can
easily see the twists long before they happen. There is
one moment early on when we see an old man found stabbed
to death after he returns from a simulation of 1937, and
his partner is suspected of the murder. The target suspect,
Douglas Hall (Craig Bierko), then gets into the simulator,
hoping to find the real killer somewhere in the virtual
world. Sitting there, I remember asking myself--"if the
simulator is built on the impermissible 13th floor, doesn't
that make it the real murderer?"
must admit, however, that I enjoyed the picture to a point.
Most didn't, probably because the subject of "artificial
reality" has been used in many more films recently, as with
David Cronenberg's "eXistenZ." The idea itself is the target
of much speculation; why would so many filmmakers generate
their movies strictly around this one perception? Answers
vary, depending on the person. But most would agree on one
simple thing: that the idea is intriguing, full of depth,
and deserves to be explored. With "The Thirteenth Floor,"
however, director Josef Rusnak shows us that some ideas,
to a point, have limited life spans. Arguably the most ludicrous
and dismayed effort revolved around the "is reality real?"
theme, his film fails to match up to the others because
most of our questions have been answered in other films.
But it is an effort nonetheless. That doesn't make it a
great movie, but it doesn't make it a bad one, either.
title refers to one of the oldest superstitions around:
that, when something has the number "13" in it, a supernatural
force is likely at work. That certainly appears to be the
case in "The Thirteenth Floor," at least, with the audience.
When the film opens, we are briefly introduced to the old
and chipper Hannon Fuller (Armin Mueller-Stahl) of 1937.
He pays off a prostitute, flings a letter into the hands
of a bartender, returns home to his wife, and is transported
back to his native time--L.A., 1999. Later, he is found
dead, stabbed several times.
better to pin the murder on then the old guy's corporate
successor, Douglas Hall? He says he is innocent, but that
doesn't appear to be the case when we see him wake up to
a blood-stained shirt. The problem: he is not sure how the
shirt got that way, and figures his only solution to the
murder lies in the simulator. Accordingly, the plot puts
its players in a whirlwind of total confusion. None are
completely sure of what is happening, what has just happened,
and how things got that way.
move through these environments without much energy or effort,
but that is okay, since our eyes are not concentrated on
the actors, anyway. Here, we are given a blend of science
fiction and film noir to perfectly underscore the gloomy
theme of artificial reality. The 1937 art direction concentrates
on muddy colors that spawn the essence of black-and-white
filmmaking, when noir was stylish and believable. Meanwhile,
the present day is done in more exotic colors, like deep
blues and grays, which in turn produce the feeling, or the
knowledge, that modern noir looks and feels almost nothing
like that of the past. The movie shifts between these two
environments very well, never over-stressing them. This
gives us reason to tolerate some of the lackluster performances,
just so we can see them walk past steep structures and look
up at the magnificent skylines.
some of the elements lack complete logical sense. The most
incredibly outrageous thing, perhaps, is the epilogue, which
I shall not reveal here, for fear that I may anger anyone
for giving away 'the big secret.' Not that it's big or anything.
We watch closely the unfolding of simulation and real world.
Character from the past wind up in the present, go nuts,
and--boom!--all goes haywire, setting us up for a nonsensical
payoff. Underneath the projector, there are a couple of
snickers, several puzzled looks, and even a few scratches
to the head. Some people aren't sure of what just happened,
while others know exactly what the director intended.
then "this sucks" rings in our ears from someone in the
first row. What can we deduce from this action? That something
(at least) is going on in the movie, otherwise the enraged
viewer would have been more susceptible to drifting off
to sleep or staggering out of the screening room. In "The
Thirteenth Floor," there's a lot going on, some of which
is a letdown, and some of which is extremely satisfying
to the challenging plot. The movie works. And yet it fails
to be a great one because of the dissatisfying last hour,
which gives us predictable twists and atrocious conclusions.
I recommend the picture? Yes, but only for those who have
a serious taking to this "reality is artificial" theme that
has been so popular in the movies these last two years.
Like those films, "The Thirteenth Floor" generates some
intriguing questions and answers, but considering that much
of the subject has been explored already, I rank it fourth
(behind "The Matrix," "Dark City" and "eXistenZ"). Some
of these new ideas and questions just don't add up in the
end. The first moment in the picture begins with the following
line: "I think, therefore I am." They speak volumes of depth
and intrigue. Too bad they don't generate the great interest
as the words of "Dark City" do, in which Ian Richardson
says, "as he follows the clues, so shall we follow the memories."
1999, David Keyes, Cinemaphile.org.
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