Dark City was part of the late 90s wave of "What is reality?" themed films that included The Thirteenth Floor, Existenz, The Game, and The Matrix. Film critic Roger Ebert championed Dark City as a modern masterpiece and even recorded a commentary track for the DVD. I suspect Ebert's influence opened the film to a whole new audience in the days when a critic held such influence. A combination of film noir and science fiction, director Alex Proyas's intriguing premise of a movie remains a classic.
Rufus Sewell stars as John Murdoch, a man living in a strange city resembling an Edward Hopper painting. Murdoch is at the center of a murder investigation. His wife Emma (Jennifer Connelly) sings at a Casablanca type nightclub and Inspector Bumstead (William Hurt) is on the case. Kiefer Sutherland plays a mysterious doctor who appears to know more than he lets on about the secrets of the city. Meanwhile menacing figures in trench coats out of a German expressionist film are watching everybody.
Dark City reveals its secrets at a methodical pace. The place is dreamlike and instantly compelling. It's a movie to watch after 3am. A philosophical theory popularized by Bertrand Russell known as "Last Thursdayism" speculates that all we know of the world may be from recent memory, maybe we were born last Thursday with implanted memories. How would we know? Blade Runner also plays with the idea, but Dark City takes it further. The scenario is like a well planned science experiment with serious side effects. What begins as a murder mystery turns in a speculative fable on what it means to be human.
Alex Proyas took inspiration from all the giants of German Expressionism like Fritz Lange and F.W. Murnau, and also looked to Orson Welles. Ebert's commentary does a great job of pointing out all these influences. He also speculated on where Proyas might go as a director, comparing him to Stanley Kubrick because of their meticulous approach to making movies.
His return to Sci-Fi with I Robot starring Will Smith was a misfire. I've not seen Garage Days or Knowing. Gods of Egypt from 2014 also flopped. For years Proyas was in pre-production on an epic adaptation of Paradise Lost that was to star Bradley Cooper as Lucifer and feature an amazing supporting cast. I remember looking forward to that one, but it fell through for financial reasons. It's always frustrating to learn about these unrealized projects from directors with great potential. Nevertheless, Dark City is a must see, a stunning vision worth multiple viewings.
***1/2 out of 4