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Code 46 (2004)
Rated R

Starring: Tim Robbins, Samantha Morton, and Om Puri

Rating:
****
out of
*****

In the somewhat near future, cloning and invitro fertilization techniques have allowed the human race to determine what personality traits are acceptable and select them at will. Those with the preferred traits are allowed to live in the cities, which are shielded from the harmful rays of the sun. Those that possess the unwanted traits -- like the potential to have a disease -- are forced to live in the desert-like areas outside the cities. Passage from city to city is controlled by the issuing of passes called papelles. Those with the papelles are "covered" by the insurance companies who seem to determine who is allowed to do what.

Because of the cloning and IVF, it's possible that someone could meet a complete stranger with the exact DNA structure as their sister or brother, for example. To keep the gene pool free from the contamination from what basically amounts to inbreeding, the law states that no one is permitted to marry or have sex with someone with more than a 25% similar genetic code. Breaking this law -- Code 46 -- is illegal and the punishment included being banished to outside the cities, where the code is not enforced.

William (Tim Robbins) is an insurance investigator called to look into some counterfeit papelles that are being circulated in Shanghai. William seems to possess the ability to determine someone's guilt by merely asking them to offer one fact about themselves. While interviewing possible suspects at a printing company, William meets Maria (Samantha Morton). He immediately seems intrigued by her and, although he determines her to be guilty of counterfeiting the papelles, he lets her go free. Since he is on a limited business trip, they have a one-night stand. However, it seems to mean much more than the typical one-nighter to both of them.

When it's determined that William's initial investigation did not turn up the counterfeiter, he is sent back to Shanghai to find the real one. Since he knows Maria is responsible, he goes to her apartment but she's not there. She's been relocated to the outside and William has to find out why.

More of a love story that takes place in a futuristic setting than a science fiction film, Code 46 has no long drawn out explanation of everything that's going on aside from an explanation about what the Code 46 means to the citizens of the future we visit in the movie. Because there are no clearly defined "good guys" or "bad guys", Code 46 takes a more realistic look at a future that's really not that far away from becoming our reality. It also means that sci-fi fanboys who assume they're going to get a space opera or a lot of action are going to be sorely disappointed by the movie's slow and deliberate pace and complete lack of laser battles or kick-ass space hardware.

Director Mike Winterbottom is big on long takes and sweeping camera shots and the film has beautiful cinematography. Filmed in a number of dazzling locations including Dubai, Hong Kong, Shanghai, London and a few places in India, Code 46 has a unique combination of archetectural style that creates a futuristic cityscape. It never allows the viewer to get jarred out of the story by looking completely out of place like a CGI-created skyline or matte painting would have done. (Do they do matte paintings anymore?).

Tim Robbins and Samantha Morton are both Academy Award nominees, with Robbins actually winning for his work in Mystic River. Neither is particularly taxed by what's required of them in Code 46, but the entire film is low-key not just their performances, so that's not a knock on them at all. In fact, if they showed too wide a range of emotion, it would ruin the atmosphere that seems to have been so carefully constructed by the script and the camera work.

It's not an easy film to recommend, but I really liked Code 46's slow pace and refusal to over-explain everything. If you like your science fiction full of action and special effects, you won't like this movie. If you like to think and can enjoy a movie that can make you do so as it goes about its storytelling business, you might want to check it out.

Trivia: Mick Jones (former member of The Clash) sings The Clash song "Should I Stay or Should I Go?" in the karaoke-esque club scene. (Source: The Internet Movie Database)

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