reviewed by Marc Glassman
Duncan Jones, director and story; Nathan Parker, script. Starring: Sam Rockwell (Sam Bell), Kevin Spacey (GERTY, the robot’s voice)
The first sight of astronaut Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell) tells us all we need to know about his situation: he’s running on a treadmill. It soon turns out that Bell isn’t just a forlorn figure; he is, in fact, the Moon’s solitary man. Bell’s only companion is a robot butler named GERTY, voiced in limpid, overly reassuring tones by Kevin Spacey. Both man and machine are working for an unnamed corporation on Earth and Bell is waiting to be relieved of duty, as his three-year commission is nearly complete.
Yikes! Sam Rockwell and the voice of Kevin Spacey for nearly two hours? What are we in for? Turns out that director Duncan Jones has more up his sleeve than subjecting an unsuspecting sci-fi loving audience to unrelieved tedium. In fact, Moon turns out to be a mystery story, a bit of a character study and an opportunity for a tour de force by Rockwell.
Jones’ ingenious plot hinges on notions of doppelgangers and identity theft. About a third of the way through the film, you see, astronaut Bell crashes his moon-rover into a derelict building—and awakens in his ship’s infirmary, only somewhat the worse for wear. But how did he get there?
The truth—or part of it—comes out when the rejuvenated Bell tricks GERTY into letting him go outside the ship despite orders not to do so by the faceless corporate bosses down on terra firma. When he reaches the moon-rover, Bell rescues, um, Bell. Yep, one of the Bells is a clone. Or are both of them?
In an intriguing and quite literal face-off, a healthy and a sicker, older Bell try to understand what’s happening to them and their mission. Rockwell gets to act, over-act and under-act, often in the same scene. And the plot moves, perhaps too slowly, towards a rather neat conclusion.
Does it work? Well, yes, but Rockwell is not exactly the young Spacey or even the middle aged Dustin Hoffman. He’s reasonably good but not absolutely compelling as Bell.
So why see the film? There is a reason. Duncan Jones was born with a rather more famous name: Zowie Bowie. Yes, he’s the son of David Bowie (Jones) and his then-wife model Angela. (Rather sensibly, the young man changed his name before he was 20.) And of course, his dad sang “Space Oddity,” one of the greatest rock songs of all time, around the time Zowie, oops, Duncan, was born.
I’m afraid that 40 years on the sad fate of “Major Tom,” David Bowie’s tragic astronaut, haunts me in a way that hasn’t been replicated by his son’s “Sam Bell.” But Moon is a good effort. We will see more from Mr. Jones, no doubt.