The Matrix
Rating -

Action / Sci-Fi (US); 1999; Rated R; 135 Minutes

Keanu Reeves: Thomas "Neo" Anderson
Laurence Fishburne: Morpheus
Carrie-Anne Moss: Trinity
Joe Pantoliano: Cypher
Hugo Weaving: Agent Smith

Produced by Bruce Berman, Dan Cracchiolo, Andrew Mason, Barrie M. Osborne, Joel Silver, Erwin Stoff, Andy Wachowski and Larry Wachowski; Directed and screenwritten by Andy and Larry Wachowski

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Written by DAVID KEYES

"It's all around us. It has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth..."

This is what we are told regarding the infamous "Matrix," as it is spoken of in whispers by the individuals of a virtual urban society. People lurk in the shadows to try and avoid it, but all the same, it is in control, having ultimate power. All is built upon the foundations of machines, computers, and technological systems. It controls their world, and thrives on their humanity. But all the manipulation goes noticed by someone, and that someone has the power to destroy this Matrix, and possibly save his race's existence.

Now think closely. This is, of course, the setup to "The Matrix," but it's also in close relation to last year's stunning and magnificent "Dark City." Each movie contrives a universe built upon the foundations of inhuman intelligence, and both contain images so unique and refreshing that they will not be forgotten. Like Alex Proyas' "Dark City," "The Matrix" is a movie so visually enthralling, so exciting and so elaborate that it deserves nothing short of universal acclaim. It's lavish, fascinating, beautiful, magnificently written, well directed, and effectively executed in every way. From the nourishing imaginations of directing/writing duo Andy and Larry Wachowski, the movie jumps off the screen with its dazzling effects and compelling setup, to the point where multiple viewing are necessary to appreciate its artistic richness. Here, I was not reviewing a film, but being sent on a fabulous journey into the depths of imagination. It's a journey that no one should take less than once.

Keanu Reeves stars as the "foretold liberator" Thomas Anderson, who begins the movie as a computer hacker. When he is discovered by a renegade named Morpheus through messages appearing on his computer screen, he is given clues of the 'reality' he lives in; "it's looking for you," the beautiful outcast Trinity warns him, without ever telling him more than he needs to know.

Morpheus, the film's strongest character, is played by the brilliant actor Laurence Fishburne with the depth and intrigue of a convincing savior. He talks, acts, thinks, and moves like Wesley Snipes from "Blade"; examples of his tremendous screen presence can be seen mostly through the dialogue, in particular when he uses questions on Neo like "What is real, and how do you define it?" Does this computer hacker know the answers? And for that matter, do we?

Reeves, whose film past has faded due to poor efforts like "Johnny Mnemonic," acts as little as possible here, which allows him to relieve pressure on a role that is mostly made up of Hong-Kong-style fighting sequences and big shoot-outs with enemies known as the "Agents." The film's action sequences that involve more stunt work than special effects are realistic, because they use real fighting rather than just the illusion of it. Actors worked for a rumored four months with Hong Kong fighting specialists and stunt coordinators. They say that experience allows you to make any illusion seem realistic, and if that's true, then it applies here.

A complete plot summary does not apply, because what you have in "The Matrix" is a story with numerous layers of intrigue piled on top of each other, so that revealing too much of it would spoil the whole setup for people who are going to see it. What needs to be discussed is the richness of the visual treatment, in which cameraman Bill Pope captures the characters in perfect locations and allows them to be exposed to the virtues of special effects. The film's best shot takes place atop a building, when Neo uses his upper body to dodge numerous bullets as they begin to pelt toward him from a distance. The scene begins at regular speed, and then as the camera swerves around him, everything slows down until you have a still shot that looks like a 3D picture being examined from every possible angle. The city is textured with beautiful tones of blue and black, and is photographed in an attempt at capturing the most intricate aspects of the elaborate skyline.

Imaginative cities, like the ones in "Dark City" and "Metropolis," help create what Hollywood considers "film noir," where you are given a skyline filled with dark shadows to carry on the film's menacing character impulses. It is a treatment used mainly in detective films, but has also been found in some famous Hollywood movies like "Detour" and "Sunset Boulevard."

Films like these convey tremendous entertainment in the way the filmmakers treat them, and the way that audiences respond to them. No doubt, "The Matrix" will likely find its audience in teenagers, as well it should. It's scary, fun, intriguing, gorgeous, and one of 1999's best movies.

1999, David Keyes, Please e-mail the author here if the above review contains any spelling or grammar mistakes.
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