Movie Review

Mania Grade: B

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  • Format: Theatrical Release
  • Rated: PG-13
  • Stars: Ewan McGregor, Scarlett Johansson, Steve Buscemi, Sean Bean, Djimon Hounsou
  • Writers: Caspian Treadwell-Owen and Alex Kurtzman & Roberto Orci, story by Caspian Treadwell-Owen
  • Director: Michael Bay
  • Distributor: DreamWorks


By Rachel Reitsleff     July 22, 2005

Scarlett Johansson in THE ISLAND (2005).
© Dreamworks
Even without seeing the trailers (which really give the game away), the audience will deduce sooner than our heroes that there is something very wrong in the spic-and-span facility where, theoretically, survivors of an ecological catastrophe spend their highly organized and scrutinized days waiting to win the lottery that will allow them to go to the Island, touted as the last uncontaminated place on Earth. Lincoln Six Echo (Ewan McGregor) suffers from strange nightmares (which are genuinely scary and which make more and more sense as the film unfolds) and an increasing surfeit of questions. Lincoln's curiosity leads him to discover that the lottery "winners" don't get to go to an island indeed, they don't leave the facility intact or even alive. Realizing his best friend Jordan Two Delta (Scarlett Johansson) is in immediate mortal peril as the latest lottery pick, Lincoln grabs her and the two escape into the outer world which is a very different place from what they've been led to believe. Meanwhile, the facility's big boss Dr. Merrick (Sean Bean), afraid of losing everything he's built, employs a government team to retrieve his lost "product."

The broad strokes of THE ISLAND's plot have been seen before in a variety of mediums, but writers Caspian Treadwell-Owen and Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci, working from Treadwell-Owen's story, bring energy and conviction as well as a welcome amount of sweetness and humor to this latest examination of how we define what's human and what's right. The script does give itself some easy outs in moral terms whenever we're asked to make a judgment call, the scales are distinctively tipped in somebody's favor by unique circumstances but there is a genuine interest in creating characters we care about, faced with dilemmas that bring them up short.

The movie is helped immeasurably by the sense of wonder and warmth that McGregor brings to his kickass babe in the woods role. Johansson is physically gorgeous and highly personable, while the supporting cast, including a standout turn from Steve Buscemi as an eccentric facility worker and solid work from Bean and Djimon Hounsou, greatly contributes to the overall texture.

Director Michael Bay, as he's famed for doing, stages some hair-raising action sequences that are so emphatic and intense that they draw us in, even though we've seen similar setpieces before. However, he is also shrewd in his use of science fiction imagery, coming up with some viscerally disturbing moments, and he allows the characters and story breathing room and time for grace notes.

THE ISLAND ultimately doesn't cover true terra nova in topical terms, but it is still lively, thoughtful treatment of interesting subject matter, dramatized in most entertaining fashion.


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