“Moon” stars Sam Rockwell, an actor who displayed terrific talent both in “Galaxy Quest” (the terrific spoof that is like the “Princess Bride” of science fiction) and in Ridley Scott’s “Matchstick Men.” In this movie, he plays Sam Bell, a solitary worker on a mining base on the moon. He misses his family, who he can only talk to via slow and unreliable recorded video messages. The presence of a smiley-face robot named Gerty (voiced by Kevin Spacey) is useful, but not very reassuring to us in the audience if we remember “2001: Space Odyssey.” Neither does the machine offer much comfort to poor Sam Bell, although it could be given credit for trying. Sam has been up on the moon base for a long time; in the opening scenes we see him with a thick and untamed beard, an unusual look for Mr. Rockwell which serves to underline how long he has been up there. He has been isolated so long, in fact, that his sanity is clearly on edge. This makes the events that follow (which I will try not to give away, although the trailer spoils a bit of the plot) all the more interesting, because we are always wondering how mentally stable Sam really is. He does hallucinate, and recognizes it, so we have to question whether some other strange things that go on might be hallucinations too. It also may not surprise you that his employers are not entirely to be trusted, and everything is definitely not as it seems.
This fits the type of story I love: tight, contained, suspenseful, character-based dramas. Even better, it is science fiction, a genre I have a weak spot for, and “hard” science fiction at that—it feels realistic, and could probably be based on some simple extrapolations from current science and technology. Too many science fiction movies these days are nothing but gunfights and explosions, just action movies (good or bad) dressed up in sci-fi clothes. This one is intelligent and subtle, for which I must give it credit. And Sam Rockwell gives a terrific performance as this lonely, insecure, unstable man, who may know much less about himself and his situation than he at first appears to. He is the only actor on the screen for easily 95% of the movie, and he carries it off just fine. (Although, thinking about it, I have to say Will Smith did a better job of winning over my sympathy with his one-man-wonder portrayal of loneliness in “I Am Legend.” But maybe that’s just because he had the advantage of possessing the almost invulnerable charisma of Will Smith. Or maybe it was because he had a dog instead of a robot.)
So why didn’t this film quite click with me? Despite all the twists and the thoughtful turns and introspection, and the logical consistency of the story, I was left cold at the end. I guess I’m left wondering what the larger truth behind this movie is, other than the frankly self-evident ones that loneliness stinks, and can drive someone to the edge of madness. There’s also a feeling of incompleteness, that perhaps the real story, with higher stakes and more character interaction, might be actually just about to begin. And “Moon” could have perhaps gone further with its premise. I expected it to ratchet up a couple levels of crazy further than it did. So, in the end, while I might have a crush on the concept and careful execution of this movie, I have yet to locate a heart or a truth that could take it from competent to great. For anyone out there who has seen this, I would love to be proven wrong.
"Moon" (2009) **1/2