Eye For Film >> Movies >> Code 46 (2003) Film Review
Reviewed by: David Stanners
Michael Winterbottom may have bitten off more than he can chew with Code 46. In an attempt to weave science fiction with social and ethical issues, romance with Greek mythology, the result is an ambitious, stylish and completely baffling piece of cinema.
Tim Robbins plays William, an investigator, sent to Shanghai to check out a fraud concerning an employee who, for one reason or another, has been illegally selling papelles - the futuristic equivalent of passports. He has been injected with an empathy virus, which allows him to read people's minds after knowing only one thing about them. Needless to say, he has no trouble tracking down the culprit, Maria (Samantha Morton).
Soon his suspect, with her cropped hair and idiosyncratic charms, has him under her thumb and a passionate 24-hour affair ensues. When William's papelle expires, he is forced to return to his family in Seattle, but unable to extinguish his memories of Maria, he conveniently makes his way back to China when a death is reported, allegedly from the illicit sale of one of Maria's papelles.
When he gets there, all sorts of weird shaped spanners are thrown into the equation. Accused of a violation of Code 46 - a law enforced by the state to prevent two people of the same gene pool from exchanging bodily fluids -William finds Maria estranged and perplexed, later learning that her memory of their encounter has been erased.
Winterbottom asks an incredible amount from his viewers. His vision of the future bypasses most of the normal visual gadgets associated with atypical futuristic sci-fi flicks. This is far more cerebral and far too cryptic. Assumptions are made and imagination stretched to the limit. It's like scanning an Iain Banks, or Frank Herbert, sci-fi novel without the context, or detail.
The stark contrast between the burgeoning skyscrapers of Shanghai and the blasted landscapes of the hinterlands are beautifully shot. Not unlike Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson in Lost In Translation, the chemistry between Robbins and Morton is also strangely believable, as they parade around the towering city oblivious to their surroundings. Both also turn in outstanding performances, particularly Morton, who is the perfect enigma, conversing in a bizarre melange of Arabic, Spanish and English.
Ultimately, Winterbottom piles too many layers on top of each other. His ideas are novel. Combining notions of a futuristic genetic protocol with romance in a far flung place oozes promise. But subtlety is one thing, confusion another, and in this case the latter prevails.
"Are you on the inside, or the outside?"
I know where I stand.Reviewed on: 17 Sep 2004