REVIEW: The Final Cut (2004)

finalcut_posterAlan Hakman (Robin Williams) is a ‘cutter’: a professional editor of recordings made by implants in the human brain. When the CEO of the company that owns the implant technology dies, Alan accepts the offer to edit the man’s memories for his memorial. While reviewing the footage he unexpectedly sees a person from his past, and becomes obsessed with tracking them down.

The Final Cut, a science fiction drama by writer/director Omar Naim, has a huge amount to recommend but also staggers terribly under the weight of its own ideas. As a viewing experience it wobbles uneasily. As a series of story ideas it is fascinating. When viewed with patience and a somewhat forgiving eye, it presents an intriguing and morally ambiguous story. When viewed more critically, poor dialogue and a messy story structure really do put a dent in Naim’s ambitions.

The core premise of The Final Cut is a great one: at birth children are implanted with a biological device that maps over their brain and grows inside the head as the child ages. The device records what is seen and heard, so that when the individual dies the device may be removed and ‘cutters’ can edit together a record of their life experience. Naim addresses the moral and ethical problems with such a device well. There is a growing protest movement against the technology – which is of course implanted without consent and then edited post-death in a similar fashion. Individuals rebelling against their own implant have magnetic tattoos drawn onto their heads to interfere with the recording process. For a cutter like Hakman (the name is a little on the nose) the technology means seeing someone’s entire life: the good, the bad, and the criminal. He is honour-bound not to share or reveal what he sees; his job is not so much preservation of memory as a builder of hagiographies, and this weighs heavily upon him.

Robin Williams is superb. Despite being remembered as one of the world’s most gifted comedians and comic actors – and he was – he always delivers his best work in drama. He does excellent multi-layered work as Hakman, and goes a long way to overcoming some of the screenplay’s more risible and stereotypical moments. Mira Sorvino and Jim Cavaziel both contribute solid support, although in Sorvino’s case it is with a character that is a little under-written and under-utilised.

The film’s key problem is not that it contains too many sub-plots, but rather that those plots have a tendency to stumble over one another rather than fully complement the film as a whole. It jumps untidily from one story line to another, with the original driving narrative giving way halfway through to what feels like a completely different story. Some elements are raised but then half-abandoned. Others seem abandoned until they suddenly rear their head at the film’s unexpected second climax. Individually they all work well, and there are clear signs that they could complement each other. In practice the film is constantly tripping over its own feet.

The Final Cut is a fascinating and worthwhile film that is visibly filled with potential, but ultimately does not pull itself together. The ideas are strong, the performances good, and Tak Fujimoto’s cinematography is typically excellent. The question is: how much do you want to see potential, compared to proper excellence?

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