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MOVIES: Swan Song - Review

Swan Song is the latest streaming feature for AppleTV+ and remarkably, Mahershala Ali’s first leading role – he’s always been brilliant of course and this is very much his movie, in fact – you get two for the price of one here as the film grapples with the near-future world at the beginning of the invention of clones – designed to aid characters to live out their lives after death – the technology is still new and highly controversial even in a sleek, high-tech world that looks straight out of something of an Apple advert – no surprise given its origins - stylish and ultra-cool, yet there are signs of creaks behind the fa├žade if you know where to look, and as the film progresses they are slowly pulled back before your eyes.

Benjamin Cleary’s direction is well crafted and has the look and feel of a near-future sci-fi movie. Oblivion and Ex Machina evoked similar visuals, and the human approach to the genre gives it a grounded feel in a high concept world. The cast itself is completely excellent across the board – Mahershala Ali of course is great but he’s joined by Naomi Harris, Awkwafina and Glenn Close in a great collection of A-Listers that work wonders together, the chemistry between Ali and Harris is completely believable and authentic even if they’re rarely in the same room together. The character work is what keeps this movie grounded and human, and without the need for excessive info-dumps to introduce an entirely new world – despite the sci-fi advancements this Earth is still recognisable as our own – Swan Song can explore its ideas such as human cloning in a fascinatingly complex and nuanced way – this is smart sci-fi that doesn’t feel the need to go for big blockbuster action set-pieces that a budget of AppleTV+’s size could have easily delivered on.

From the start the comparisons to films like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is clear, Cleary’s influences are not hidden – especially with the opening scene between Ali and Harris on a slick, stylised train that comes complete with a robot customer service assistant. What follows allows the characters to come to terms with their feelings towards the new technology but the script felt maybe one polish too short – it never quite reaches the peak sci-fi classics of the last decade that it wants to achieve – the ideas aren’t explored complexly or in depth as say, Arrival – although the human factor is very much present, and the melancholic elegancy is very much a welcome touch. Cleary is certainly cementing himself as a director to watch.

Sci-fi has rarely been this stripped down and minimalistic at the movies – Mike Cahill’s grounded low-fi masterpiece Another Earth is a great example that the genre doesn’t always need to go big. Here, there are shades of Black Mirror in its unsettling approach that will always keep you on edge no matter how calm things may feel and this will suit fans who are craving new episodes when we haven’t had any in a while – but most importantly – Swan Song feels like a testament to the brilliance of Mahershala Ali. Even if it won’t be for Swan Song, it's almost hard to ignore the fact that if he keeps getting the right roles another Oscar will almost be certainly coming his way.

Swan Song is currently streaming on AppleTV+.


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