Sharlto Copley as Wikus Van De Merwe
Jason Cope as Grey Bradnam - UKNR Chief Correspondent
Nathalie Boltt as Sarah Livingstone - Sociologist
Sylvaine Strike as Dr Katrina McKenzie
Elizabeth Mkandawie as Interviewee
John Summer as Les Feldman - MIL Engineer
William Allen Young as Dirk Michaels
Greg Melvill-Smith as Interviewer
Nick Blake as Francois Moraneu - CIV Engineer Team
Morena Busa Sesatsa as Interviewee
Themba Nkosi as Interviewee
Mzwandile Nqoba as Interviewee
Barry Strydom as Interviewee
Jed Brophy as James Hope - Police Officer
Louis Minnaar as Piet Smit
Directed by Neill Blomkamp
"District 9" keeps many of its surprises hidden. When it does unleash them, it's an incredible display of action and social commentary that blows the audience away. This is one of the best sci-fi films I've seen since "The Matrix" in terms of originality and immersing the audience in a new world.
Over 20 years ago, a broken down alien spaceship parked itself over the city of Johannesburg, South Africa. When humans finally broke into the lifeless ship, they discovered hundreds of insect-like aliens starving and in a state of disarray. Not knowing what else to do, they transferred the aliens to a holding facility called District 9. But over time, the aliens have worn out their welcome. Now derogatively called 'prawns,' they have become unpredictable scavengers and a drain on society. Humans look at them as brainless menaces and animals.
Pencil pusher Wikus Van De Merwe is tasked with leading an effort to forcibly remove the 'prawns' from District 9 to a new concentration camp outside the city. He eagerly undertakes the job and shows a high degree of familiarity (and contempt) for the aliens. But when he accidentally sprays himself in the face with an alien device, he finds a horrifying chain of events take place that will change the world as Wikus knows it.
"District 9" is rated R for bloody violence and pervasive language.
I'm going to keep this review as spoiler free as possible, but I highly recommend you go into "District 9" knowing as little as possible. This is a case where the trailers and commercials don't spoil the entire film, and the payoff is worth it. Just come back and read this after you've seen the movie!
Walking out of "District 9," I tried to remember the last time I had felt I had just seen a landmark sci-fi movie. Something that made me say, "Wow! I haven't seen that before!" Something that so engrossed me that I lost track of time. Something that totally immersed me in a world and left me wanting to immediately see the sequel. As best as I can recall, the last film I had that feeling walking out of the theater with was the first "Matrix" movie. And dare I say it, "District 9" is the best sci-fi movie I've seen since "The Matrix."
What makes it so great? Well first off, as I already mentioned, it doesn't spoil its best surprises in the commercials and trailers. There is some incredible action that you haven't seen at all yet. When the alien weaponry comes into play... holy cow. These guns, ships, and robotics do things that make the Transformers look like... well, toys. And man is it gory. When a person gets shot with an alien weapon, there's absolutely no question that the enemy is eliminated. It's just this side of Paul Verhoeven gore. To hear the audience gasp and shriek as the sights is quite a thrill. It feels like a video game at points, but in a good way.
Going in cold with this film also gives you a greater sense of discovery as you're introduced to the world. As you see the 'prawns' for the first time, you laugh and cringe at all their quirks. Their choice of food, their physical abilities, and their brutality all combine to make them some of the more lifelike aliens put on the big screen. You also begin to sympathize with them as you see them beaten by the humans, taken advantage of, and conned. It's amazing how Blomkamp takes you from feeling like they're animals to feeling sympathetic towards them. It's also amazing when you see how the aliens are treated horribly and you say, "That's probably what would really happen in this situation." This film makes you think along with dazzling you with action.
The lack of big name actors also lends itself to the sense of believability. Sharlto Copley is simply amazing as Wikus Van De Merwe. He goes from mere pencil pusher taking advantage of nepotism to a man pushed way over the edge. What Wikus is put through over the time of the story is pure hell and you're with him every step of the way. What's amazing about Wikus is that even very late in the story after everything he's been through, he still somewhat clings to his prejudice and his sense of self-preservation. He's definitely a flawed character. He develops a relationship with one alien named Christopher and that will be compared to "Alien Nation" and "Enemy Mine," but it definitely works here just as well as it did in those films. It almost turns into a buddy movie, but in the best sense of the word.
The extras are also quite impressive. The movie starts out as a documentary and we see various people being interviewed. They'll talk about how bad the aliens are to the point that you think the filmmakers may have tricked them into talking about the local poor or something. But then they make some reference to the 'prawns' or 'aliens' and you realize they're delivering lines. They add a lot of authenticity to the documentary portion. But as the film progresses, it drops the documentary format and turns into more traditional storytelling. The documentary style works well for introducing you to the world, but it drops it once you're fully indoctrinated.
What Didn't Work:
I have no real complaints about this film, only nitpicks. The first is that when Wikus gets sprayed in the face with the black liquid, we're told it is one thing and has one function. However, it has a dramatic effect on Wikus that you wouldn't otherwise expect. For example, you wouldn't expect to spray your dog in the face with window cleaner and then see the dog start talking. You expect it to clean windows. I can't get much further with this line of thought without spoiling the movie, but you'll understand it once you've seen it. The black liquid shouldn't affect Wikus like it does, but you accept it and move on.
"District 9" also slows its pacing down quite a bit at times, and this is mainly when Wikus tries to reconnect with his wife. Now it's absolutely essential to the story that these scenes happen, but they do make you wonder when it will get back to the action.
The Bottom Line:
"District 9" is my favorite movie of the year so far and I can't wait to see a sequel. Maybe it's the post-Comic-Con glow and maybe I'm being overly generous, but I hope it holds up upon a second viewing. I think a lot of people will have it on their Top 10 sci-fi movies lists for a while.