THE CONGRESS (Israel/Germany/Poland/Luxembourg/Belgium/France/15A/122mins)
Directed by Ali Folman. Starring Robin Wright, Harvey Keitel, Jon Hamm, Danny Huston, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Paul Giamatti, Sami Gayle, Michael Stahl-David.
THE PLOT: "You had it all, Robin," barks Al (Keitel) at the sad-faced, sunken 48-year-old actress, "a movie queen at 24, all the big studios came crawling, and you slammed all the open doors, crushed all the dreams." Well, Hollywood can sometimes be about second chances, especially if the height of your star power can be preserved forever inside a computer. And so it is that a desperate Wright heeds her agent's words and signs up to having her avatar unleashed upon the world - so she can finally say yes to all those roles that she was just too proud to allow on her CV back in those early, heady, idealistic days. All the real Robin Wright has to do is lay low, and let her sampled self do all the hard red carpet work. That her son, Aaron (Smit-McPhee), needs some expensive medical care helps with this bitter pill. Jump forward twenty years, and Wright is box-office gold, on her way to speak at a conference when we suddenly shift to animation. And a new perspective on this crazy world...
THE VERDICT: From the director of Waltz With Bashir, and based on Stanislaw Lem's 1971 novel The Futurological Congress, the notion of celebrity, identity, artificial intelligence, reality vs virtual, artistic worth versus box-office gross, and even just the age-old conundrum of aging are all addressed in The Congress. It's a film of smart questions if not exactly smart answers, the busy 1990s animation aping such cartoon travesties as Cool World and Space Jam, and the heavy-handed metaphysical musings conjuring up unwelcome Matrix sequel flashbacks.
Still, it's an ambitious film, and a highly admirable one at that. Wright is the right choice for just such a role, and the fact that her career is actually in very fine fettle right now makes her doppelganger desperation here all the more devilish. There's just a little too much going on here, too much information, too many ideas, all bustling for space in a dizzyingly busy film.
Review by Paul Byrne