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Christopher Webster [Celluloid 04.17.09] movie review cyberpunk scifi action drama

Year: 2008
Directors: Alex Rivera
Writers: Alex Rivera / David Riker
IMDB: link
Trailer: link
Review by: agentorange
Rating: 8 out of 10

"We give the Americans what they’ve always wanted; all the work and none of the workers." -- Node Farm operator

If there is any justice in the world, two films will change the face of independent science fiction filmmaking in 2009. The first is Duncan Jones’ intimate drama, Moon, and the other is Alex Rivera’s Sleep Dealer, a masterfully executed and politically astute film that might even be thee perfect cyberpunk movie. It’s about a five-minutes-in-the-future world where multi-national corporations use migrant workers to remotely operate our western technology. A world where if you need some extra cash you can sell some memories faster than donating blood and if you want to join the army you can fight the "enemy" without ever leaving the comfort of your home base. All it takes is the mutilation of your body and becoming, literally, a slave to the system.

The world of Sleep Dealer looks just like our own but retro fitted with various layers of new technology. CCTV’s have guns on them now, stuff like that. Of course the great irony of the film is that even though garbage cans will open automatically for you and Johnny 5 is picking your oranges, the same political and social problems still exist in the world. Small amounts of western people get rich off the work and hardships of lots of people in other countries. Sweat shops have just been replaced by "Node farms" where rows of workers break their brains instead of their backs.

Of course Sleep Dealer isn’t just about politics. It’s a stirring drama at heart about a young man who dreams of a larger world and estranges himself from his family to both explore and help them survive by sending them money. And of course he meets a beautiful young woman who teaches him about the world and has node sex with him. Standard really.

The film contains a ton of stunning futuristic production design and some great special FX work. Some of the CGI may not be up to the standard of your 300 million dollar block-buster but the story is strong enough to support it and the world is so compelling that it doesn’t matter. The technology is suitably de-humanizing for a cyberpunk film and presents another great irony; that even though we have all this amazing communications technology, we’re more dislocated from each other than ever before. I wish we could show you more images from the film in this review but the screener we got was so covered in watermarks that they wouldn't have done the film justice.

Coming in at running time of an 1hr and 20 minutes I found myself wanting more when the film was finished. The writers were smart to keep the story intimate and character driven but at the same time the world is so fascinating that I wanted to see inside the ivory towers of its architects, the western world. Of course, just as you and I would never be allowed into the inner circle of corporate and political board rooms Rivera doesn't pretend he can show us in his film. In this way, we're all outsiders and this film becomes an eye-opener in that respect.

Sleep Dealer hits a limited release in theaters today so consult your local listings and check it out if it's coming to your town.

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