DIRECTED BY JOHN WOO
STARRING: BEN AFFLECK, AARON ECKHART, COLM FEORE, UMA THURMAN, MICHAEL C. HALL, JOE MORTON, PETER FRIEDMAN, KATHRYN MORRIS and PAUL GIAMATTI
In one interrogation scene that happens somewhere close to where the plot device begins to work, an FBI agent condescendingly brands Michael Jennings (Ben Affleck) as a ‘reverse engineer’. Perhaps that was the writer’s idea of cleverness, perhaps not, but I saw it as an inside jab at the systemic plot development that was to follow – the screenplay is reverse engineered, the ends need to be met. And we’re given a bunch of things in an envelope that we’re meant to make sense out of, things ranging from an Aerosol spray to a pair of Glasses that are designed specifically for prison-break. Except it’s the interrogation room itself in this case, where the agents ask more questions than they can stomach – in other words, they ask exactly the questions that the audience has inside their heads so as to deem the film in as clueless a state as the viewer, and hence encourage interest.
John Woo, the man who gave us the outrageously entertaining ‘Face/Off’ comes up with yet another exploit of ‘science-fiction’ where he pushes real hard on the boundaries. This is the man who’s known better for his perks as opposed to the actual deal, with the verdict being an ‘if only…’ on the excessiveness of action sequences interwoven with mindless romance that’s but a gimmick and an interlude. And in an age where romanticism has lost all value, I guess we’d have to be grateful it serves at least those two purposes. But then again, perhaps it serves a third. Mr. Jennings loses a friend and accomplice in Shorty (a self-destructive cameo for Paul Giamatti) who proves simply too slow for the aggressive narrative, contributing with nothing but hilarity. He is then soon replaced by the taller, slimmer and fitter Dr. Rachel Porter (Uma Thurman) who also serves more than that particular purpose, for she is written into the plot as opposed to the poor friend. A cruel example on what the thirst for stardom could do to acting talent, particularly in the year of release of his ‘American Splendor’, and probably the year of filming of Alexander Payne’s ‘Sideways’. Hurts me to think that.
I had the ‘Langdon Effect’ throughout my tenure with ‘Paycheck’, except it’d have been the ‘Jennings Effect’ if only I had watched it first. Mr. Jennings is a circuit engineer and occasional James Bond, the FBI wears skirts and chases flies and the bad guys never get their shots right – I was made to swear an oath of ‘no questions asked’ and maybe they wiped my memory on my way back for I seem to be asking them all the same. The cons are always perfect, there’s no glitch and there’s distinctive significance in a thing as trivial as a paper clip or a Bus Ticket. And while ‘Minority Report’ had a minority report as excuse for an alternate future, ‘Paycheck’ has none. Where’s the scope for stable vision if the Future is ever-changing as it’s supposed to be? Maybe someday they’d make a film about a machine that makes permutations about the future with mathematical probability, except it’d be of no consequence. Or maybe not. ‘Paycheck’ is far from real. It’s painful recluse.
Here is a film that’s found confronted by the likes of '12 Monkeys', but has neither the style nor the simplicity to substantiate itself. And yet, I couldn’t help but be bowled by it in a couple of instances, like when Mr. Jennings watches the Red Sox on TV, wields a baseball bat as weapon and asks about his favourite team as a trick question – a detail that I, the viewer, knew more than the masquerading impostor. Something that said loud and clear that I was watching Ben Affleck, a man who always spares us some delight, irrespective of the grind otherwise.