Reminiscence review: "Hugh Jackman provides a robust lead in flawed sci-fi noir"

Thandiwe Newton and Hugh Jackman in Reminiscence
(Image: © Warner Bros.)

GamesRadar+ Verdict

Reminiscence is an engaging, if flawed sci-fi noir from writer-director Lisa Joy. While characterization is lacking, there’s enough in the world-building to keep you intrigued.

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"Nothing is more addictive than the past," mutters Nick Bannister (Hugh Jackman), the morally questionable gumshoe at the heart of Lisa Joy’s future-set noir Reminiscence. Living in Miami, at a time when the oceans have risen and large portions of the city are underwater, Bannister’s work revolves around plundering people’s memories. "Nostalgia became a way of life," he reasons. "There wasn’t a lot to look forward to. So people began looking back."

Using a bath-like device called ‘the tank’, Bannister immerses clients into the watery depths, hooks them up and accesses their formative experiences. These are projected in 3D hologrammatic form, making them all the more vivid for those who wish to wallow in the past. Together with his business partner Watts (Thandiwe Newton), it’s a lucrative little operation for Bannister, but when he meets Mae (Rebecca Ferguson) things change rapidly. 

The archetypal femme fatale, Mae soon has her hooks in Bannister. One low-chemistry love scene in the kitchen later and he’s smitten. But as any student of film noir will tell you, these romances don’t often end well. When Mae’s memories reveal involvement in a series of murders, and she then disappears, Bannister becomes obsessed – forced to comb through her past experiences using ‘the tank’. 

Making her feature debut here, Joy, the co-creator of HBO’s Westworld, has put together an ambitious mix of science fiction and old-fashioned detective noir. True, there are plenty of moments that feel snatched from better movies – the Wachowskis’ sci-fi The Matrix casts a huge shadow over Reminiscence, and it’s also hard to shake the memory of Memento, not least because Joy’s husband, Jonathan Nolan, wrote the short story that was based on. 

Yet with the evergreen Jackman providing a robust lead – it’s good to see him delving into his darker side – Reminiscence remains a mystery rich on atmosphere, thanks in part to the moody cinematography from Joy’s Westworld Director of Photography Paul Cameron. The Miami-under-water scenes also provide a stark visual expression of a world facing climate change – more science fact than anything.  

The film falters mostly with its disappointingly one-note female characters: Ferguson’s Mae is something of a male fantasy figure, while Newton’s Watts is given little more to do than kick ass. It’s a shame, for Reminiscence has some impressive ingredients floating around in its murky mix.

Reminiscence is in cinemas August 20. For more, check out the most exciting upcoming movies heading our way over the next year.

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Freelance writer

James Mottram is a freelance film journalist, author of books that dive deep into films like Die Hard and Tenet, and a regular guest on the Total Film podcast. You'll find his writings on GamesRadar+ and Total Film, and in newspapers and magazines from across the world like The Times, The Independent, The i, Metro, The National, Marie Claire, and MindFood.