Immortality is something that we all dream of at one point or another. What we could do with infinite life span, or even just a couple more decades, is a subject of great debate in many forms of art and morality. While Self/Less isn’t the first film to toy with these themes, it’s the first in a while to do so while straddling two different genres: science fiction and action. Not only does it effectively manage to walk the line between the two, it also manages to re-introduce the world to the talent and promise of Ryan Reynolds.
Damian (Ben Kingsley) is the king of New York real estate, and while he’s the man who has everything on the outside, the inside tells a different story. With cancer ravaging his body, and time running short, Damian turns to an enigmatic genius (Matthew Goode) who promises him a way to cheat death. While he’ll have to turn his back on his old life, he’ll gain decades by “shedding” his current form and transferring his consciousness to a new body (Ryan Reynolds). What begins as a novel enough idea turns into something much more sinister, and with the walls closing in around Damian’s investigation into his new identity, he might have a shorter second lap than anticipated.
Self/Less is the antithesis to a summer blockbuster, but at the same time it shows moments of blockbuster filmmaking that turn the film into quite the interesting dichotomy. It’s quiet, with punctuated moments of action violence and score. It’s a thoughtful movie that manages to have one slip up that robs it of just a slight smidge of credibility. Yet with all of the duality the film exhibits, one thing that doesn’t waver is the thoughtfulness of the film. Self/Less pays such attention to its characters that you can actually understand their reactions and motivations with certain turns. Even the film’s villain is only a villain in the execution of his plan, but at the same time his plan isn’t leading to some sinister endgame. Its his means, not his goal, that make him a character to root against; and it’s refreshing to see a film with a fantastic premise preserving an economy of believability where it can.
At the heart of this film is the performance of Ryan Reynolds, and it’s a performance that reminds me a lot of the Reynolds we saw about a decade ago. When Ryan Reynolds was on the cusp of the stardom that eventually eluded him, the roles he picked were both films that fit him perfectly (like the underrated Just Friends) as well as films that broke him out of his stereotypical mold (like Smokin’ Aces). Self/Less feeds more into the second pot of roles, but draws from the first when it needs to, leading to the most balanced and effective performance that Ryan Reynolds has given in a good long while, if ever. While the supporting cast is filled with actors that are all stars in their own right, and all given their own moments, it’s Reynolds’s show - and he carries it admirably.
The best part about Self/Less is that it makes such an illogical screw up in one scene during the third act that you can forgive it for this sin. If anything, the way the film handles the relationship between Ryan Reynolds and his film daughter more than makes up for this lapse in judgment, as it manages to give us a child character that is as delightful and endearing as the script wants us to think. The humanity of Tarsem Singh’s latest film grounds the fantastical premise, and overall the film works because it trusts the characters to drive the action, not the other way around. A visually stunning piece of work, Self/Less is a film that deserves to be talked about proudly amidst the noise of the summer blockbuster season.