Fair warning: This is about to get appallingly unprofessional.
(Yes, I know it’s earlier than usual. That’s why I’m telling you.)
Wanna know how much I love Sam Rockwell?
For those playing along at home, here’s how to construct a handy (and surprisingly accurate!) conversion chart: First, commandeer yourself a nice, wide slab of posterboard (pink or neon green works best, but whatever), a fistful of felt-tipped markers, and a yardstick. Using the latter two of these, carefully draw onto the former a pair of narrow, elegant columns. Label these “ME” and “BRIAN.” In the first column, write a number that represents how much you, by your own best estimate, love Sam Rockwell. (This number is your approximate Sam Rockwell Affinity Index `SRAI`. Kindly retain for your records.) Now, multiply that number by itself. Then, add a million. Then, add eleventy billion. Then, scrap the whole affair and commence giddily scrawling “Brian loves Sam Rockwell” on every available wall, because that’s how much I freakin' love Sam Rockwell.
So, there that is.
Not to say that you don’t, of course. Indeed, if there’s a shred of sanity or taste left in this crazy, mixed-up world we call cinefandom, there should be scads of folks just brimming to line up and throttle my face for suggesting that my SRAI exceeds their own. My point, which I may by now have well overstated, is that Mr. Rockwell is, for me, one of those handful of actors and actresses whom I’ll watch in absolutely anything — and the more he’s featured, the better.
Enter Moon, debut feature of one Duncan Jones (scion of one David Bowie, incidentally) and, pound-for-pound, probably one of the coolest — and certainly one of the coolest-looking — films you’ll see this year. The plot: Sam Bell (Rockwell), corporate astronaut of the near future, is reaching the close of a grueling, three-year energy-mining assignment on the moon. He’s been unremittingly alone for every minute of it, save for periodic recorded transmissions from his wife (and others) and the constant presence of a nigh-maddeningly-serene talking computer (voiced by Kevin Spacey). (By the by: If something about that second part sounds pointedly familiar, it should. More on that later.) “Alone,” though, soon becomes a relative term, and things get supremely interesting, as Sam, stricken now with a strange and increasingly debilitating disease, encounters what appears, perplexingly enough, to be a second version of himself.
Moon didn’t strike me as quite a perfect film, but it is immensely absorbing and, perhaps most notably, possessed of a remarkably refreshing, oh-so-very-welcome “classic” feel. The (admittedly well-worn) adjective “atmospheric” springs almost immediately to mind — and fits, happily. The picture seems, and purposefully so, an intriguing throwback, thanks in large part to the extensive use of (oh, JOY!) model-miniature effects — which I hadn’t realized I’d missed nearly as much as I apparently had. It’s a clean, rather elegant film, wide-open and quiet by way of tense and claustrophobic. Visually and tonally, it owes much to 2001: A Space Odyssey, among others — a fact Jones, seated at a SXSW roundtable earlier this year, eagerly volunteers. Kubrick’s landmark sci-fi behemoth informed several areas of the production, in fact.
“I needed `Spacey` because of HAL,” Jones says. “ ... Everyone was going to immediately think of HAL when they see Gerty `the aforementioned talking computer`. Which is good. ... That’s part of the deal. ’Cause you think ... we’re going to tell the same kind of story that Kubrick did with HAL, and then we take you somewhere else. ... And that’s what Kevin Spacey’s voice ... did for us. And, you know, also ... he’s Kevin Spacey, and he’s an amazing performer, so.”
Rockwell(!), seated at the same table, just as freely acknowledges Moon’s heady cinematic lineage: “There would be no Bladerunner or Alien without 2001, and then, the list goes on. You know, with Outland and Aliens. … You have to respect your elders.”
Indeed, though smaller (again, purposefully), Moon doesn’t feel all that far removed from such company. Perhaps none of this, though, is as exiciting as the news I’ve been sitting on until now: Moon, more or less, is a solid 90-plus minutes of all Rockwell, all the time. As both protagonist Sam and Sam’s hallucination/clone/ doppelganger`?` — and despite having virtually no screen partner besides himself (Spacey was added in post) — Rockwell (predictably) belts the sucker outta the park.
Not that it was easy.
“It was ... infinitely challenging, in so many ways, technically and viscerally and everything,” he says of the role(s). “I mean, you had to really — it was like a math problem every day, you know? ... We had a body double, like, -slash-actor, a guy ... and he and I would go over the scenes — I’d gone over the scenes with my friend Yul `Vasquez`, in New York ... Yul and I would read the scene, then we’d switch clothes and do the same scene. And we would riff, or whatever, and it was just a way to kind of start to try to find some differences between the two personalities.”
Naturally, they also went to the source(s).
“We watched a lot of things … I watched … that documentary that Ron Howard did about the moon ... Midnight Cowboy ... The Right Stuff ... Silent Running, Bladerunner, Alien, Outland, 2001 ... watched the making of `2001`, and the making of Bladerunner, got a whole new appreciation ... for those films, you know?”
Surely. But ... Midnight Cowboy?
“Midnight Cowboy ... mainly because the first `Sam` gets sick. And the way that Dustin Hoffman gets sick in that, and he progressively gets sicker ... is really ... well done.”
Same to you, Mr. Rockwell. Same to you.*
*(I hope this hasn’t been creepy. Has this been creepy? I just really like Sam Rockwell.)