Reviewed by

Christopher Armstead

Well… ‘District 9’ was different, I have to give it that. This movie ‘District 9’ arrives on our shores via route from South Africa amidst quite a bit of praise and it has a helluva story to tell and everything about this movie, from the way it tells its story, to the shifts in the plot and to the way the story progresses is different from what most of us are used to. But does different equate into better? I’m still trying to figure that one out.

‘District 9’ begins telling its story in a documentary based style in a vein similar to the BBC comedy show ‘The Office’. Twenty years ago a huge spaceship appeared above Johannesburg South Africa with a million aliens trapped inside. These aliens are derogatorily termed ‘Prawns’ due to their resemblance to the large crustaceans, though not nearly as tasty. Mmmmm… prawns. These starving aliens are quickly interned to a quartered off section of Johannesburg called District 9 which quickly becomes a dilapidated slum and its’ inhabitants accelerated up the social ranks to become a legitimate ‘depressed minority’. If you’ve ever spent some time in a depressed neighborhood, District 9 is not that much different as the inhabitants live well below the poverty line, they have a fairly serious drug problem with the drug of choice being cat food, there’s rampant crime, a weapons problem and even an organized crime problem in the form of a group of rogue Nigerians who have taken up shelter in District 9.

Not surprisingly the populace are none too happy with District 9, or their residents, and want them gone, though they have nowhere in particular to go, but nonetheless the NATO-esque governing body in this reality called the Multi National United (MNU) has decided to move the Prawns from District 9 to a ‘much nicer’ internment camp miles from the city.  Leading this operation will be snarky government bureaucrat Wikus Van Der Merwe (Sharlto Copely) who by chance happens to be the son-in-law of the man running the department, a man who assures us that Wikus didn’t get the job due to nepotism. After spending some quality time with Wikus I’m thinking that dude is lying.

Anyway Wikus, who isn’t the brightest bulb in the box – and that’s his mom talking, not me – goes about the business of rousting the aliens, with the assistance of the heavily armed MNU special forces, to get them to sign off on relocation. While doing this Wikus and his crew are also confiscating illegal firearms and the like which leads us to the alien Christopher Johnson and his young son CJ. To make a long story short Wikus accidently gets into something that he shouldn’t have which has some serious perverse effects on my mans genetic makeup. These effects, while simply gawdawful for Wikus, makes him a person of interest to the weapons designers at the MNU who have definite designs for Wikus. Or at least parts of him. Without giving too much away, Wikus needs a friend in need and Christopher turns out to be a friend indeed since the two of them have parallel goals. As the pair motor towards these goals I do hope you’re not the squeamish type because when Wikus and Christopher turn into Riggs and Murtaugh, you might want to close your eyes and put on some galoshes because it’s about to get bloody up in here.

The question that was asked of the group of individuals I saw ‘District 9’ with was ‘Did you like it?’ and quite honestly I don’t really have a concrete answer to that question. The last time I felt this way after exiting a movie was ‘No Country for Old Men’ though there’s no comparison between the two films with the exception that both movies are nearly flawless in their presentation and at times both were very difficult to watch.

Directed by young South African Neill Blomkamp, there’s a laundry list of things about this movie that are simply spectacular. The story is a compelling one made all the more intriguing due to the fact it takes place in post-apartheid South Africa which made for some fascinating parallels, it is darkly humorous… with emphasis on the word ‘dark’, Blomkamp’s direction is tight, lean and efficient, and the special effects were nothing short of amazing. I assume the alien creatures were CGI, I’m not sure, but they were so well integrated into the scenery that it almost looked like there were animatronics involved. The importance of these special effects can’t be stressed enough since these aliens live on our planet and are restricted by the laws of our physics and were integrated so well into our real world environment that it completely sells you on the fact that they are real.

‘District 9’ is also violent. Brutally so. Bodies explode with mass frequency, limbs detach, heads are severed and aliens are liquefied. This is one seriously violent ass movie. Is this violence out of place? Well, not really, but maybe… which leads to the issue with this movie in that almost everything in it exist as a shade of gray. It’s not a documentary, though it is shot that way at times, it’s a movie and in a movie one would like to latch on to something and ‘District 9’ gives you very little to latch on to. Copley’s Van der Merwe is a fascinating character but he is an insufferable asshole almost to the bitter end, and just when you start to feel sorry for the dude his assholery kicks in. The alien Christopher is quite heroic when taken at face value, but you can’t take anything at face value with this movie because there are questions as to why he’s here and what are his long term plans. Sure I want to root for the guy, but not at the expense of the population of the planet earth. This is nothing that is explicitly stated but still something one must question. The MNU is a morally ambiguous organization at best and even the MNU soldiers, while completely brutal, are just doing a job, a job which just might be a necessary one. Who knows?

‘District 9’ is a remarkable achievement that’s for damn sure and maybe in a summer filled with simple ‘G.I. Joe’s’, horrific ‘Transformers’, mediocre Wolverines, and John Connor just to name a few, my Hollywood softened brain just wasn’t prepared to wrap around the complexities that are ‘District 9’. Still this is an achievement to be sure.

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