Release: Friday, September 27, 2019 (Netflix)
Written by: Gregory Weidman; Geoffrey Tock
Directed by: Jim Mickle
Starring: Boyd Holbrook; Cleopatra Coleman; Michael C. Hall; Bokeem Woodbine
I’ll admit that what drew me to the recently released Netflix original In the Shadow of the Moon was not Boyd Holbrook, even though he’s, uh . . . he’s the main dude in it. In this era of super-important and super-niche brand appeal it seems a little silly to volunteer two hours away to a movie heavily featuring an actor you’re not much of a fan of. But I am somewhat drawn to time-traveling narratives and on the surface In the Shadow of the Moon seemed to have me covered. In an ironic twist it was Holbrook I came away thinking more about than anything else.
Director Jim Mickle (Cold in July; We Are What We Are) mixes and mashes genres and ideas in a way that results in a viewing experience that’s very much a tale of two halves. Set in the city of brotherly love In the Shadow of the Moon begins its life as a grittily compelling — and pretty icky — police procedural, then gives itself over to a time-traveling farce that gets bogged down in increasingly convoluted internal logic and noisy social commentary, the latter updating Minority Report‘s stratagem to target politically-motivated terrorists rather than plain, old murderers.
Taking place over the span of roughly 30 years — 36 but who’s counting? (you should be, that’s who) — the thrust of the narrative concerns the relationship between a devoted cop who eventually finds himself a detective, but loses a lot of other things, and a blue-hooded terrorist bent on righteous retribution, one with the ability to travel backwards in time and who resurfaces on one particular moonlit night every nine years to exact justice on future perpetrators of even worse, broader acts of violence. Key developments are parsed out every nine years across an episodic story broken up into “chapters” — ’88, ’97, ’06, ’15 and finally looping back to the dreaded 2024, where the film begins — drip-feeding clues that appear to draw the detective and the terrorist closer together, even though they’re traveling through time in opposite directions.
For emotional investment, the movie relies on that old gambit of obsession being the hero’s ultimate undoing. Officer Lockhart (or is that Locke? not even IMDb seems to know) devotes years — decades — to a seemingly impossible criminal case, which creates a rift between him and his family (his daughter played at various stages by different actors) and casts him as a hopeless defendant in the court of common sense and reason. His peers, including laidback partner Maddox (Bokeem Woodbine as a Roger Murtaugh type) and Detective Holt (Dexter‘s very own Michael C. Hall), who happens to be Lockhart’s brother-in-law, invariably jump ship well before the hair and old-age makeup transition Holbrook from handsome to “haggard.”
Fortunately the performances and a few adrenaline-spiking chase scenes provide enough of a human heartbeat and broad entertainment to make the journey relatable and not a completely polarizing exercise in political extremism and inflammatory left-wing rhetoric. Holbrook is clearly committed, a proud southerner who found his way into acting by way of Michael Shannon dropping in to his home town (his high school didn’t even have a drama department), and who has used his fashion model looks to get him considerable attention in bit parts and more substantial roles (Narcos; Logan). He remains a sympathetic presence throughout. Opposite him, the striking-looking Cleopatra Coleman as that enigmatic time-traveler doesn’t need to do much to be effective. With a shaved head and the lips to incur the envy of Angelina Jolie, her canvas is easily one of the most unique assets this movie has tucked in its holster.
Moral of the Story: I left with a better impression of actor Boyd Holbrook, though if you’re here for Dexter you might not leave quite as satisfied a customer. While the rules governing the agency of each of the two leads becomes increasingly convoluted, you have to praise In the Shadow of the Moon for its ambition. It’s certainly one of the better Netflix offerings currently available. I just wish it could sustain the quality of the much better, seedier first half.
Running Time: 115 mins.
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Photo credits: http://www.imdb.com
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I like the sound of this. Hehe, terrorists, time-travel…. reminds me of Predestination! Tho it doesn’t sound as good as that, it sounds like it has one of those twisty plots which I usually have fun with even if the movie as a whole is a bit average. You’re increased writing output is making my watching list grow mate! Keep up the good work =)
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Hope you enjoy this when you get around to it bud
Sounds interesting enough to check out. Wasn’t familiar with it before now.
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Some cool ideas at play here, unfortunately for me the end result doesn’t quite stack up to greatness. Hope you enjoy It.
Actually your review has gotten me thinking: imagine this movie done in the style of Taxi Driver. You know, really dark and dirty and seedy, and have the Holbrook character more like Travis Bickle, you know, an outsider, who’s half-crazy anyway, and let him just go totally deranged by the time travelling stuff going on that no-one but him can suss out. We think he’s going crazier, but he thinks he’s sane and the world is going crazier (Time-travelling killer keeps coming every nine years but no-one believes him because he’s crazy would do that to a guy). I’d even end it in a similar orgy of violence as he goes nuts and somehow maybe resets the timeline or something like that. I’d even really go balls to the wall with a real Time Paradox that breaks everything. What a ballsy movie that would be.
Come on Netflix give me your money, I’ll make you proud.
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Yeah it definitely is a film with some unfulfilled potential. I for one was disappointed by the second half’s abandonment of the slow-boil intensity of the cop stuff, there was a real True Detective-type vibe going on and suddenly — well, I took a smoke break right at the halfway mark (almost exactly, actually which was weird . . . and also a reason I do enjoy streamed content 😉 ) –the movie just completely changed. One plane ride away and you’re in a different thing completely.
I think in order for the more harrowing potential of a more rigorous interrogation of the psychological undoing of the character to really come off, they’d need to replace Holbrook. I complimented him in my review and I thought he did do well with the material, but I don’t think he’d quite manage to pull off bonafide drama. Send in the clown, a.k.a. Joaquin Phoenix for that!