‘REMINISCENCE’ Review: Hugh Jackman and Rebecca Ferguson Sizzle in Nimble Neo-Noir


Courtney Howard // Film Critic


Rated R, 1 hour and 56 minutes

Directed by: Lisa Joy

Starring: Hugh Jackman, Rebecca Ferguson, Thandiwe Newton, Daniel Wu, Cliff Curtis, Brett Cullen

In REMINISCENCE, filmmaker Lisa Joy exposes us to a world not too far removed from the one we’re currently living in. It’s a familiar place, perhaps fractured off our very own timeline, marked by extreme climate change, egregious socio-economic warfare, political corruption, and the sobering consequences of a futile war. To label it science fiction feels slightly ill-fitting – a denial of a hyper-realized future given its historical blueprint and real-world relevance. Yet the story fashioned within this bleak setting is full of passion and hope, centering on a broken man left searching for the dame of his dreams after she abruptly disappears. It’s an ingenious, taut neo-noir with the right amount of romance and intrigue.

Nick Bannister (Hugh Jackman) is a veteran weighed down by the horrors hoisted upon him during war. He and many others in Miami seek to free themselves from a depressive, oppressive reality of environmental and political havoc, with the city fighting literal and figurative rising tides that separate the rich from the poor. Nick deals in nostalgia, a remembrance of fonder pasts. His high-tech reminiscence machine, once used as an interrogation device, allows for its users to revisit and record memories in glorious 3-D while the mind is put into a trance-like state. Business has been waning and he and partner Watts (Thandiwe Newton) have to pick up side gigs in order to make ends meet. On the side, he works as a private contractor for the district attorney’s office, aiding in their investigations.

Nick’s world upends upon the breathtaking arrival of Mae (Rebecca Ferguson), a slinky, slippery chanteuse whose sultry pipes are just as smooth as her gorgeous satin gowns. Her innocuous request to help find her keys leads to the pair engaging in a steamy love affair. But, as quickly as they fall for each other, she abandons him, leaving him on a desperate bender, plunging into the past hoping to fix their future. As he’s left to pick up the pieces of his broken heart, he’s asked to help the DA piece together a puzzling case involving drug dealer Saint Joe (Daniel Wu) and terminally ill land baron Walter Sylvan (Brett Cullen). However, when Mae miraculously turns up in a viewed memory from someone connected to the case, the discovery takes Nick through a dark underworld, unfolding more information on the woman he thought he knew.

Thandiwe Newton and Hugh Jackman in REMINISCENCE. Courtesy of Warner Brothers Pictures.

Jackman delivers an entrancing performance as someone perpetually oscillating between being a guarded, gruff, grizzled private investigator and exposing his vulnerabilities as a lovelorn possible mark. Ferguson is the perfect smart, seductive femme fatale, nimbly embracing genre tropes and tweaking them to suit a modern, feminist adaptation of that archetypal presence. We can also chart her character’s evolution through Jennifer Starzyk’s costume designs, which toy with the beholder’s perception. Together (as many of us already know having glimpsed it in THE GREATEST SHOWMAN), Jackman and Ferguson have incendiary chemistry. We care about the couple before the narrative actively works to pull them apart. Their tastefully, artfully shot love scene – Herb Ritts-like in composition and punctuated by a subtle, classy double-entendre – is simply swoon-worthy.

The film’s supporting players are also given ample arcs. Watts’ journey, going from hardened cynic to empathetic soul, blossoms in Newton’s capable hands, imbuing her with sensitivity and strength. She’s not there solely to complement the male arc, but to experience a wholly self-motivated trajectory. Cliff Curtis, who plays a menacing figure from Mae’s past, turns in inspired work, channeling his James Cagney-esque character with aplomb. Wu, whose dichotomous character hints at a deeper-rooted backstory than what’s shown, gives a memorable, albeit lean, performance. He makes a meal out of his screen time, despite his action sequence feeling tonally out of place.

Through Joy’s precise lens, the heady, heightened concepts of persona and perspective are handled intelligently. It’s an exhilarating, riveting psychological deconstruction and meta commentary on storytelling and archetypal figures, with clever twists on familiar techniques and devices. The love story hits all the right notes, touching on and expanding upon the fundamentals, particularly those from the fateful tale of Orpheus and Eurydice, which gets name checked in the film. The mystery sustains suspension and is bound to keep audiences guessing up until the end when the puzzle is fit together. Plus, Howard Cummings’ elegant art deco-inspired production design, Paul Cameron’s superb cinematography and Ramin Djawadi’s swagger-filled score augment the atmospheric pull of the picture, gifting it with an otherworldly quality and glimmering throwback sheen.

With surrealist, mind-bending conceits and aesthetics, REMINISCENCE crafts a dazzling magic act – one that’s not quick to fade from our own memories.

REMINISCENCE opens in theaters and begins streaming on HBOMax on August 20.

About author

Courtney Howard

Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, CCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.