Has it really been 27 years since Jodi Foster was a nervous fledgling FBI agent in The Silence of the Lambs, a role that won her a second best actress Oscar (the first: The Accused, three years before)?
Like certain actors of limited exposure -- Foster has made a scant five films before this one in the last decade -- seeing her onscreen again gives almost anything she makes a particularly welcome sheen, an event picture in the best sense of the word, and not just because she tends to choose her roles more carefully than a lot of her contemporaries: If she's there, you almost have to believe there's a good reason for it.
87 Cast: Jodie Foster, Sterling K. Brown, Sofia Boutella, Jeff Goldblum, Brian Tyree Henry, Jenny Slate, Zachary Quinto, Charlie Day, Dave Bautista
Director: Drew Pearce
Rating: R, for violence and language throughout, some sexual references, and brief drug use
Running time: 1 hour, 33 minutes
In Drew Pearce's chaotic action thriller, set in a riot-ripped L.A. in 2028, after corporations with names like Clear Water have privatized the water supply, and are employing a private police force known as Pro-Shield, (quick shout out for corporate names that sound all too believable) in an increasingly desperate attempt to quash the growing, ever-violent rebellion against them -- and lest you think this premise is too far-fetched, try googling "water privatization" and "Venezuela" -- America's major cities are on the brink of total anarchy and revolution.
Foster plays a woman simply called Nurse, the lone health-care professional working at a high-tech, near impregnable fortress, known as the Artemis, a haven for criminals, injured on the job, who are in need of extensive health care and a safe environment with which to convalesce.
The hotel was built with hard-and-fast rules, designed to keep all nonmembers out, and protect the lives and identities of their clients with absolute authority. However, on this particularly busy Wednesday night, it would seem, everything suddenly comes together at once to make it virtually impossible to keep the place from falling into utter bedlam, even as Nurse relies on the massive Everest (Dave Bautista) to help keep the peace and enforce the rules.
First comes in a guest known at the hotel as Waikiki (Sterling K. Brown), dragging along his severely wounded brother, Honolulu (Brian Tyree Henry), shot by cops after a failed bank heist. No sooner has Nurse settled them in -- utilizing a 3-D printer to genetically map and create a new liver for the fading Honolulu -- then she has to hightail it over to the room of the aggressively needy Acapulco (Charlie Day), an obnoxious arms dealer with a badly torn up eye; from there, she shuffles past Nice (Sofia Boutella), a high-end assassin with a bullet wound in her arm she has secretly self-inflicted in order to gain access for her next job, the murder of a VIP client staying at the hotel, in what would be another clear violation of its stringent rule policies.
Things very quickly get a good deal worse: Nurse gets a call from a frantically obnoxious man (Zachary Quinto), whose father, Niagara, also known as the "Wolf King" (Jeff Goldblum), one of the most powerful men in L.A. and the owner of the hotel, will be coming in, rules be damned, in need of significant patching up. Roughly the same time, Nurse spies a badly wounded female cop on one of the video feeds from outside the hotel, reaching out to her and calling her by her actual name. She recognizes the woman to be Morgan (Jenny Slate), a former friend of her beloved son, who she believes died of a drug overdose some two decades before.
Naturally, it would be breaking the rules of the highest order to let a nonmember into the hotel, let alone a cop (although, Morgan turns out to be a community liaison, rather than a jack-booted enforcer), but Nurse can't let go even the smallest tangential relationship to her lost son, and so has to force herself to face her severe agoraphobia and step outside the hotel in order to save her.
With all this business happening at once, Pearce's film could easily take its quasi-mashup of John Wick grittiness and The Purge-style social apocalypse and gone totally off the rails, but the savvy writer of such surprisingly urbane fare as Mission: Impossible -- Rogue Nation and Iron Man 3, sagely relies on the simplest of conceits to keep everything from boiling over into bloody fecklessness: His characters are actually interesting, which centers the film in ways that allow him to get away with all sorts of other plot-related flim-flam that would otherwise have doomed the project.
Of these characters -- the slightly neurotic Everest, the deep-thought Waikiki (whose favorite quote is "You work with what you got; not what you hoped for"), the obnoxious Acapulco, et al. -- Nurse remains the central emotional figure in the film, as Foster embodies her with a drained spirit, but an unshakable desire to help other people in need, be they villain, vanguard, or remnant of a painful past.
Her unkempt hair cut at a severe shoulder bob, her face drained of color and resonance, her halting gait a shamble of a walk, pitching herself forward as a means of staying upright -- it's as if Clarice Starling had awakened 30 years later having totally gone to seed -- the actress (who, in truth is only 55) doesn't shy away from her age lines, she uses them as strong character pulls. She presents an unadorned woman whose only relief from the unrelenting grief she still feels at the loss of her son ("Do you have kids?" she asks a recovering Morgan, "It's always your fault.") is to propel herself headlong into the "work" of saving the lives of wealthy, horrific people, like a small sand shark who has to constantly be in motion in order to stay alive.
In the end, Pearce's odd concoction is a peculiar mixture of violence, character work, black humor, and sort of too much of everything at once -- the last 15 minutes when the violence finally explodes isn't half as tangible and coherent as its lengthy setup -- but it is, still, and most refreshingly, the work of a singular vision. (Pearce wrote and directed the film, a standalone, nonsequel based upon something of a new concept, despite its more derivative plot elements.)
It certainly doesn't all come together cogently, it has neither the commitment to its violence, nor the conviction of its storytelling to be particularly satisfying -- Pearce, even with the modest promise he shows, is still a light year from Gareth Evans -- but it does have some surprisingly well-drawn characters, with the nearly always fabulous Foster presenting a more indelible portrait. For the rock 'em/sock 'em summer season, that can actually be enough.
MovieStyle on 06/08/2018
Print Headline: Hotel Artemis