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Code 46 | Review

Mind over Matter

Winterbottom’s anti-climatic text of fresh new ideas stuck in a traffic jam of sorts.

A certain disconnection, and perhaps a little concentration from the viewer is required to copiously appreciate Michael Winterbottom’s newest film – a must for sci-fi fans who have been wishing for the second coming of Blade Runner instead of the mind numbing special-effects bonanza of say a Roland Emmerich pic.

Frank Cottrell Boyce’s screenplay proposes a sci-fi world that dips into the geographical politics and gravitates towards a rendering that’s sees a future filled with potential biological harm, non-issues of globalization and memory manipulation. If Gondry’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind taught us that exploitation of the memory was bad, then Code 46 tells us that pressing the delete button on one’s past is a must for survival. Tim Robbins (Mystic River) follows his Oscar-winning performance with another ‘repressed’ character, this time a detective investigating a criminal who he ends up falling for. The amazing Samantha Morton (In America) plays an assembly line worker who is being investigated for stealing ‘papelles’ – a sort of passport needed for traveling the world but something which also helps instantly change social class. Together the two break the code as mentioned in the film’s beginning titles, – one that was established to protect the gene pool of the population – but one has got to wonder, how such an advanced society somehow forgot about birth-control and other forms of disease prevention.

With an Antonionian awareness of the relationship between space and people, filmmaker Michael Winterbottom’s visual text initially opens with a nice aerial shot of the wasteland plains, but for the rest of the picture the director summons up very little effort in modifying the look of his locations. Modern Shanghai provides the wired world look; one shot inside a ringed-shaped illuminated hotel is beautiful in design, while the economically broke India serves as the contrasting playground of devastation but also serves as a place of freedom. The visceral, grainy lighting captures mood but the moments of intimacy lack the suggested emotional depth that strings the two together and the film’s soundtrack follows in the footsteps of Winterbottom’s 24 Hour Party People, look for an amusing appearance from The Clash’s front man singing a classic in a karaoke bar sequence. As a sci-fi film, Winterbottom’s works because of the ideas that get transmitted through the dialogue – a feasible anti-virus chatter about not so distant future epidemics combined with a curious use of the English language that minces word with other foreign languages. Unfortunately, the morsel of romanticism lacks the imminent intensity, and the narrative removes all thriller elements of the chase, bouncing around from a high security anti-trust scenario to a world of mental blockage and sparse movement.

With the recent breakouts of SARS, West Nile disease and the drive to extend human life beyond all possibilities as with cloning lends itself to Code 46’s genetic and thematic ideas, surely those entering the film will be at odds with an art-film take on the sci-fi genre and the lack of entertainment value won’t help the film either in extended runs. Just wait to see what the director has in store next.

Rating 2.5 stars

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Eric Lavallée is the founder, CEO, editor-in-chief, film journalist and critic at (founded in 2000). Eric is a regular at Sundance, Cannes and TIFF. He has a BFA in Film Studies at the Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema. In 2013 he served as a Narrative Competition Jury Member at the SXSW Film Festival. He was an associate producer on Mark Jackson's This Teacher (2018 LA Film Festival, 2018 BFI London). In 2022 he served as a New Flesh Comp for Best First Feature at the 2022 Fantasia Intl. Film Festival. Current top films for 2022 include Tár (Todd Field), All That Breathes (Shaunak Sen), Aftersun (Charlotte Wells).

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