If there has to be a quint- essential film for the end of the millennium, this is it. I’ve never seen a movie that blended so exhilaratingly high-concept science- fiction, nerve pounding action and philosophical allegory, a movie in which content and style are so in synch. Keanu Reeves (surprisingly cool in Jet Li mode) stars as Thomas Anderson, a mild-mannered software programmer who moonlights as an expert hacker under the name of Neo. His existence is about to change drastically when he’s contacted by a mysterious group of rebels led by Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne, impeccable), who believes that Neo is the chosen one and is determined to prepare him to face his destiny : freeing the human race from the Matrix. Unfortunately, no one can be told what the Matrix is; you have to see it for yourself. Besides, I don’t want to spoil one of the film’s pleasures, which is to gradually discover the truth at the same time as Neo. I’ll just say it has something to do with the world as we know it being just an illusion created by an empire of intelligent machines where a small Resistance struggle to defeat the deadly Agents.
The film was written and directed by Larry and Andy Wachowski, whose sexy, stylish film noir “Bound” was an extremely promising debut. I was really looking forward to see what they would do with some real money, and man was I not disappointed. Their sophomore effort is unique, ambitious and thought-provoking. The plot is very interesting: it’s an exploration of how much we can or can not trust what our minds sense as reality. The film’s nightmarish theory is that what we call reality is actually some kind of computer enhanced virtual reality. Therefore, it is possible to bend or break the rules we take for granted, gravity for instance. That’s what Neo, Morpheus and their crew (which include Carrie-Anne Moss as a tough babe and Joe Pantoliano as a shady lad) are set to do, and so are the Wachowski brothers. With plenty of imagination ant the first-rate SFX to support it, they crafted one of the most visually stunning films ever.
What’s amazing is that all the nifty visual tricks they use never feel forced or show-offy: it always feels natural within the film’s universe. I also love the idea that the characters are able to download knowledge unto their brains. The Wachowski had the particularly brilliant brainchild to have their heroes use this technique to turn themselves into experts at jiu-jitsu, kung fu, tae kwan do, kempo and even drunken boxing! This leads to some of the most out-of-this-world fights this side of Hong Kong (the fights were actually choreographed by HK legend Yuen Wo Ping). This is in part what makes “The Matrix” so special. Unlike most high-concept sci-fi (like last year’s “Dark City”), it is not only visionary and intelligent but also as action packed as any Aliens or Blade. It’s the kind of movie that never stops surprising you. In a way, “The Matrix” is about the magic of cinema itself, about how filmmakers like the Wachowski bros simulate reality and have the power to bend its rules to fit their vision.