The Matrix (1999)
Directed by: The Wachowski Brothers (formerly) Runtime: 2 hrs. 16 mins Rated: R
Studio: Warner Bros Screenwriters: The Wachowski Brothers (formerly)
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Carrie-Anne Moss, Laurence Fishburne, Hugo Weaving
Tell me if you’ve heard this before. Dinosaurs roamed the Earth, then they die. Man evolves and recreates dinosaurs, which then eat man. Woman inherits the Earth. Oh, wait…that’s Jurassic Park. Let me try again. Man creates machines, then makes A.I. until the A.I. uses machines to take over the Earth and kill man. That’s, basically, the logic behind the Terminator movies. So, how is The Matrix an evolution beyond the troupe of machines taking over? Humans don’t know they are controlled by the machines; that they lost a long time ago. That twist and what follows is the critical deviation from the otherwise tired sci-fi troupe of humans fighting back against machines.
What is the Matrix? A dystopian hellscape unlike any other version around. It’s one part Tron from 1982, where humans “hack” into a computer system and change what they want from the inside. Another part is inspiration from the 1955 novel “The Body Snatchers” by Jack Finney with pod people or body-snatching…after a fashion. It’s also other things, but blend those two ideas together, and you’ve got an inkling of the plot. That description doesn’t do The Matrix justice. It’s a film you have to see to truly appreciate. To say more would be to give away things that are best enjoyed when you don’t know it’s coming. Why spoil the magic? That is what great cinematic storytelling does for an audience; it casts a spell.
The Matrix was groundbreaking for its time and not just for the ingenious original story and cinematography but for the special effects. Even the trailer mesmerized viewers with the tone, pace, and music, even though, broadly, it didn’t tell anything about the plot. It grabbed eyeballs with the sample of the special effect wizardry to come. For the time, that alone was enough. What enables the film to still be appreciated by viewers two decades later is the story. The idea and notions that are explored are just as creatively invigorating now as it was then.
Part of what established that appreciation is the cast. People that believably embody the roles they’ve been cast for and work well with everyone else. Keanu Reeves’s low-key, mellow persona lends exceptionally well to his depiction of Neo. A man that finds himself in a life-changing situation and is asked to be a leader. It’s an argument for those that don’t seek power can make the best leaders. Neo’s journey down the rabbit hole is visually stunning and created a new standard for every film after it to match.
Trinity (Moss), Morpheus (Fishburne), and Agent Smith (Weaving) are all wonderful choices for their respective roles. Each exudes levels of presence while running, shooting, and fighting for their lives with excessive amounts of energy. Each of them and the other characters have these backstories that anchor them into the logic of the plot. It also shows the bonds between one another so that the audience further buys into the philosophical ideas being displayed. Whether the story is explaining and doing something or outright making a visual spectacle, the pace never drags.
This film is not suited for younger viewers. Or people with a severe aversion to guns and weapons in their movies and lots of fighting. It’s one of three existing Matrix films, with a fourth due out this year in theaters.
If you like a compelling detail-rich story with style, good acting, pace, and action, you will not be disappointed adding The Matrix to your watchlist.
-a pen lady