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Mindscape

Mindscape (2013) Movie Poster
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  •  Spain / USA / UK / France  •    •  99m  •    •  Directed by: Jorge Dorado.  •  Starring: Mark Strong, Saskia Reeves, Richard Dillane, Indira Varma, Noah Taylor, Alberto Ammann, Brian Cox, Molly Stein, Marc Padró, Frida Palsson, David Chevers, Bruno Sevilla, Aisha Prigann.  •  Music by: Lucas Vidal.
        In the near future there are memory detectives, people who have the ability to enter other peoples' electronically aided memories. They often are used to resolve psychological conflicts, and sometimes to exonerate someone from a crime. John was at one time the top in this field but he has been recovering from the death of his wife, and a stroke. To get back into work the head of the small firm he works for offers him what is supposed to be a simple job, getting 16 year old Anna to start eating again. However, the "simple job" turns into his most challenging.

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Image from: Mindscape (2013)
Image from: Mindscape (2013)
Image from: Mindscape (2013)
Image from: Mindscape (2013)
Image from: Mindscape (2013)
Image from: Mindscape (2013)
Image from: Mindscape (2013)
Image from: Mindscape (2013)
Image from: Mindscape (2013)
Image from: Mindscape (2013)
Image from: Mindscape (2013)
Image from: Mindscape (2013)
Mark Strong has a loyal cult following, and I can get on board with that. He's interesting to watch. But this film isn't worthy of its leads. The story isn't clever enough, and the movie relies too heavily on clich├ęs to create atmosphere.

Rather than casting a Brit in the role of Anna, the British actors (Strong, Brian Cox, Indira Varma, Richard Dillane and Saskia Reeves) all accommodate newcomer Taissa Farmiga by adopting faux American accents. The whole film, complete with blue filters and a couple of outdoor shots of some American Metropolis with no name (it's filmed in Spain), is a kind of inauthentic American thriller.

The premise is clunky, requiring some awkward exposition from the outset. This must be some time in the future, because detectives can read minds now. Strong's "John," (no last name), while recovering from a personal tragedy which is interfering with his work, is assigned to "Anna" (also no last name), a teenager with an eating disorder. Even the names in this movie are generic. In a plot device shamelessly lifted from "Inception," the film that "Anna" desperately wants to be, John's wife loses a child and uses her husband's gifts to live in her memories, ultimately unable to escape her virtual reality. We never meet her.

Anna's messed-up parents never really get their comeuppance, which is unsatisfying. In her home, she's monitored by a nurse, Judith (Varma), through a camera installed in her bedroom. I've never heard of such a thing happening in real life. The nurse hits it off with John instantly, although there's zero chemistry on camera, and after a perfunctory date in a depressing bar, John politely declines an invitation to "come upstairs" within 24 hours of meeting her. These people are all very unprofessional.

When the nurse is thrown down the stairs, purportedly by Anna (we never actually find out whether she did this or any of the other horrible things she's been accused of), John goes to the hospital and clutches Judith's hand as though she's the love of his life. She spends about 5 minutes on screen throughout the whole film. Cox is similarly underused. Accused of serious misconduct which later proves to be groundless, we're never really sure what to make of him, and ultimately it's not pertinent to the plot anyway.

The film requires serious suspension of disbelief. For an empathic detective, John is bafflingly obtuse. He treats a young girl (with a history of sexual abuse by an older teacher) in her bedroom, of all places. The treatment requires them to hold hands. Anna flirts brazenly with him from day one, but a few mumbled comments about transference notwithstanding, he never distances himself from her. She sketches him, watches him sleep, and at the end of their treatment, she hugs him, as does her mother. In real life, a psychiatristmindreading-detective would be like "WHOA!"

In fact, it's not clear why John is allowed to "treat" a vulnerable child with obvious mental and behavioural issues, let alone administer sedatives prescribed for her mother. He's a detective, not a psychiatrist. Who gives children sedatives after a trauma anyway, outside of an intensive car unit? And how is this new, unproven method of entering a person's mind and witnessing their memories deemed appropriate for an unbalanced juvenile? And how does it actually work?

However it works, Anna seems to be more cunning than everyone else in this film, which beggars belief. John makes so many obvious missteps you wonder if he's ever seen a movie before. I felt like yelling at him, like you do in pantomimes. "Don't go into the woods!"

I'm still not clear on what Anna actually did and what she didn't do. The twist towards the end neatly resolves all of the outstanding plot holes, in the same way that finding out the whole movie has been a dream is a resolution. It was profoundly unsatisfying. John, released from the pain that's been haunting him for years, celebrates his new-found freedom by "going upstairs" with the nurse we forgot existed. It's almost identical to the ending of the underwhelming "Blood," in which he also plays a detective, also with Brian Cox.

None of the characters in this film are developed in a way that makes them relatable, and you never invest emotionally in them. Anna herself is cold and robotic rather than engaging and seductive, and despite Strong's tangible talent, and a lot of superfluous smouldering, we never really get a handle on his character. He's just a cardboard cut-out of an American detective with personal issues. Maybe if we'd seen more of his relationship with his wife, instead of just a glimpse of blurry memories and a photo that could have been clipped from a catalog. The nurse was more of a plot device than a person, so we never get to see John engage with anyone on a human level.

Strong and Cox are actors of substance, and it's a pity to see them wasted on an underdeveloped story. Farmiga isn't bad, but she's too young and inexperienced to carry a film. I'm not sure who they're pitching this to: savvy "Inception" fans, or the teen-girls who might have watched "The Bling Ring." I doubt it will satisfy either audience. Why they changed the name "Mindscape" to the mindlessly generic and well nigh unGooglable "Anna" is beyond me.

"Anna" is an okay way to kill a couple of hours, if you don't have anything else to do. But Dorado's attempt at a Hitchcockian suspense movie falls flat. If you want to see Strong in a moody noir-ish thriller, try "Welcome to the Punch," a proper British film where everybody uses their real accent.


Review by Nom DePlume from the Internet Movie Database.

 

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