Running time 1hr 57mins
DIRECTOR Tarsem Singh has previous when it comes to mind-bending science fiction. In 2000 thriller Cell, he dealt with subject matter that involved psychologist Jennifer Lopez entering the mind of a serial killer in order to uncover the whereabouts of his latest victim. In 2006 fantasy drama The Fall, a man’s fractured state of mind and a girl’s lively imagination combine to weave a bizarre fiction/reality-blurring tale. And though his latest effort also explores the mysteries and complexities of the brain in its body-swap storyline, Self/Less is arguably his most conventional film to date.
The story is centred around tycoon Damian Hayes (Ben Kingsley) whose failing health and estrangement from his daughter (Michelle Dockery) lead him to investigate his options in the face of impending death. An underground procedure known as ‘shedding’ aims to prolong the life of the world’s most productive and important minds by swapping their contents into prime young and healthy ‘lab-grown’ bodies.
It’s too tempting a prospect for the billionaire to pass up and he forks out a massive proportion of his fortune to transfer his consciousness into a carefully selected specimen (Ryan Reynolds). But as the story unfolds, he discovers that the company and its methods are shadier than they let on…
To realise that this pedestrian – yet not altogether unentertaining – sci-fi thriller has been executed under the watchful eye of Tarsem Singh is surprising. He’s a man who has historically seemed to pick and choose his projects, and yet his unique visual flair is entirely absent here. Recalling 2001’s Limitless and also John Woo’s 90s actioner Face/Off, there’s little that’s new in Self/Less and he fails to fully explore an enticing concept.
Another problem is in the casting and characterisation. There is little correlation between Damian’s
character pre- and post-operation. The Reynolds version is like an entirely new person – you see
nothing of the former magnate in the new body, in his eyes nor his actions. Inherently more likeable, Reynolds is well cast as our main point of indentification but
Kingsley’s default pompous, supercilious persona is problematic.
With the film’s revelations uncovered too early, most of the tension dissipates early on and it’s simply a waiting game for the audience until it reaches its predictable end. Tarsem Singh, you’re better than this.