Tuesday, January 05, 2010

District 9

Rating : 7/10
Release Date : August, 2009
Time : 112 minutes
Director & Co-writer : Neill Blomkamp; Co-Writer : Terri Tatchell
Starring : Sharlto Copley, David James, Louis Minnaar, Vanessa Haywood

A Dutch driver once confided to me that they used to call the Turkish and other nationality drivers ‘Roaches’. In District 9, the derogatory term used for aliens is ‘Prawns’. For a change when aliens come, they don’t come to the USA but Johannesburg. A giant spaceship arrives, and then hovers motionlessly over the city. Finally, humans weld through the ship and find aliens in an impoverished condition inside the ship. They relocate them to a camp. As the years pass, the camp becomes a township, known as District 9.

The aliens proliferate. They are blamed for increasing crime rates, they find it difficult to stay within the confines of D9. That’s when, with the world watching them, close to twenty years after the spaceship arrived, the South African govt decides to relocate the 1.8mn aliens to another location, 200 kms from Jo’burg. They handover the relocation project to MNU, a South African multinational organisation. Within MNU, its handed over to the affable Wikus Van Der Merwe, the son-in-law of a director in MNU. He has to go to the township, get the aliens to sign an eviction notice and then relocate them to the new camp. For military support he has the ultra aggressive Koobus leading his private army. And then things start to go wrong….

The film is a thought-provoking study of human greed and ruthlessness. The choice of Jo’burg as a location is inspired as the treatment of aliens resembles what we know happened during apartheid (the film is apparently inspired by a similar relocation during the race era, which was captured in Neil’s short film ‘Alive in Jo’burg’). Also, I think few other nationalities (maybe the Aussies and the Americans ?) are capable of as hardline an approach as taken by MNU to protect their borders / way of life. Its shot like a documentary, has a very real-life feel to it, with news camera’s, journalists, MNU personnel interviews all adding to the drama.

The acting is excellent with Sharlto Copley playing Wikus, the wronged man in the wrong place, Louis Minnaar as his father in law plays the hard as nails boss and David James, the sadistic Koobus convincingly. There is a lot of blood and gore, and a Nigerian gang which is running several businesses in the township is well portrayed also. its also extremely impressive that a movie of this quality was made only for US$30 mn and despite being without a single known face, has grossed US$200 mn so far.

Neill Blomkamp, perhaps rightly, seems to have a bleak view of humanity. Our greed and brutality, especially when placed in a position of power, is truly frightening. I hope for our sake, he is wrong…

PS : for a look at the trailer and the highly innovative marketing campaign behind it, click here

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