Alexander Payne, known for biting social satires such as Election, About Schmidt and Sideways, has directed and co-written his latest black-comedy, which stars Matt Damon.
In a world where resources are being used up fast, a Swedish scientist cracks “cellular reduction”, allowing people to shrink themselves to four inches high. Paul Safranek (Damon) decides to join in the craze, especially when he calculates the spending power his relatively small savings will now have in miniature land.
Cracking through the liberal smugness that has plagued the sustainability movement, Payne paints an uncomfortable portrait of the essential selfishness of the middle-classes, and their fantastical notions that the planet can be saved, whilst their life-styles remain intact.
This attack on the bourgeoisie cuts even deeper once we (along with Safranek) meet Ngoc Lan Tran, who has been shrunk by her government due to her political dissidence. Tran is played superbly by Hong Chau, who frankly steals the movie. Third major character is the fabulous Dusan Mirkovic, who embraces the luxury lifestyle of “getting small”, whilst seeing through the hypocrisy. Christopher Waltz shows a razor-sharp comic timing and seems to have enormous fun with this role. Also watch out for cameo roles from a wealth of great actors such as Neil Patrick Harris and Margo Martindale.
The water-tight script by Payne and long-term collaborator Jim Taylor, allows Damon, Chau and Waltz to build up an unusual chemistry which is seductive to watch. Special effects, although essential to the premise of the film, are not overdone, and serve the work rather than drive it, working seamlessly with the outstanding art direction, under the supervision of Kimberley Zaharko.
At once funny, confronting, depressing and oddly optimistic, this is neither a Jeremiad for the planet, nor an apologia for humanity. It is intelligent film-making which leaves the audience to create their own curriculum from the art.
And meanwhile, this is an incredibly engaging and enjoyable couple of hours in the cinema.
Payne has done it once again.
Downsizing opens Boxing Day.