Sci-fi meets cinematic magic in Downsizing, says Rashid Irani
What a wonderful week! Along with a double bill of Paddington 2 and The Post, an even more bewitching film is unspooling at the multiplexes.
Working from an audacious idea conceived by his long-time collaborator Jim Taylor, co-scenarist and director Alexander Payne (Nebraska) has pulled off one of the great cinematic accomplishments of the new millennium.
Imagine a future in which people have the option to shrink themselves to 5 inches tall. Thanks to the efforts of Norwegian scientists, the downsizing procedure has now become a reality. It seems to offer a permanent solution to the problems of overpopulation and environmental hazards.
A middle-class couple (Matt Damon-Kristen Wiig), intrigued by the possibilities of a better life in a miniaturised world, decides to undergo the transformation. When their plans go awry and the husband is left to fend for himself, he befriends a hedonistic neighbour (multiple Oscar-winner Christoph Waltz, having a blast) and a Vietnamese refugee (a star-making turn by relative newcomer Hong Chau).
The story then more or less dispenses with the sci-fi premise to turn into a blithely cynical meditation on the human condition.
Veering from subtle satire to overwhelming poignancy with effortless ease, Payne elicits striking performances from all his actors, including Udo Kier and Laura Dern in the cameo roles of a sea captain and downsizing promoter respectively.
While the director’s soundtrack choices are as eclectic as ever, the contributions of production designer Stefania Cella and his regular cinematographer Phedon Papamichael are invaluable.
Downsizing is one of those rare contemporary films which merits, and will reward, a repeat viewing.