The Final Cut Review
Documentary maker Omar Naïm’s first feature film as writer and director, explores some of the themes and concerns of the documentary filmmaker – showing the impact of the selective editing and subjective presentation of another person’s life on the screen in the context of a science-fiction thriller.
Alan Hakman (Robin Williams) is a Cutter – a film editor who takes a lifetime’s footage from a Zoe implant inserted into a subject’s brain from birth – a device that records every image a person sees through their own eyes – and cuts it into a Rememory, a movie that summarises a person’s life after they die. Hakman has been assigned a high priority project, creating a Rememory from the Zoe implant of top Eye-Tech executive Charles Bannister. Opposition groups, concerned about the moral implications of such technology are aware that the footage from Bannister’s chip could contain invaluable information to support their cause, but Hakman himself has found a person in his client’s memory that relates back to an incident from his own childhood that has long haunted him.
The Final Cut is an interesting exploration of a number of filmmaking and philosophical themes, taking in the power of images and how they can be misused, the director’s responsibility towards his subjects in documentary filmmaking, reality TV, Big Brother invasion of privacy and the whole question of finding a meaningful structure to a person’s life. It shows how society prefers a sanitised version of reality, cutting and deleting or simply forgetting things that don’t fit with a preconceived ideal, manipulating memories – often unintentionally – in order to give life a comfortable, structured and easily comprehensible pattern. It’s a theme that is very much in vogue at the minute, building on themes exhaustively explored by visionary science-fiction writer Philip K. Dick and most recently being successfully tackled on the screen in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.
Naïm’s film doesn’t exactly forge any new ground in this area, but he shows an impressive ability to handle and present the material and these always interesting themes in an exciting and entertaining manner. Like many science-fiction films of this kind – Blade Runner, I, Robot, Minority Report – the main character has a revelation at some stage, or an identity crisis – events are revealed which throw a different light onto their lives or alter their perception of the world around them – and most viewers familiar with these sorts of films will spot the twist coming in this one. Naïm however for the most part manages to avoid the usual trappings of the genre, downplaying the futuristic technology in favour of a Brazil-like retro-look. He also reins-in the action set-pieces, showing an admirable restraint in pace and tempo, allowing the viewer time to consider the implications of the subject, trusting in his own script’s robustness, without obscuring it behind pyrotechnics and chase sequences. Robin Williams also effectively downplays a well-written character – an uneasy, troubled figure, his own past hides a secret that makes him the perfect Cutter, seeing life in a structured, organised manner, willing to excise and delete memories that are not wanted, like his own past, keeping it hidden, suppressed and locked away, until events force him to confront them.
Surprisingly, there has so far been no theatrical distribution in the UK for The Final Cut. It is however released on Region 1 DVD in Canada by Lion’s Gate and the disc is stacked with features.
The anamorphic 2.35:1 transfer of the film is clear and warm with very little in the way of flaws. It does however look video-sourced – the image tends to the soft side of clarity, tones are a little too red, skin tones particularly don’t display natural or realistic tones. Shadow detail is limited and blacks are a little on the flat side and there appear to be some video-style cross-colouration or chroma noise in block backgrounds. There is the occasional flicker of macro-blocking artefacts, but they are scarcely present on the disc and will not be an issue for most people. Overall, the image is still nonetheless impressive and there is very little to complain about.
The film comes with a Dolby Digital 5.1 and a Dolby Digital 2.0 mix, both English language. The sound is strong and clear, carrying warmth and making appropriate use of surrounds, particularly in the Philip Glass-influenced rippling music score.
English hard of hearing subtitles are provided as well as Spanish subtitles.
Commentary by Omar Naïm
Naïm provides a good commentary for the film, talking about developing the script, what he hoped to say in it, and how he got the film made. He doesn’t see it as a futuristic film, predicting technological developments – using the science fiction context in its best way to make a point about today’s society. It’s hardly an essential commentary and occasionally it gets into needlessly explaining what the characters are thinking and feeling, but it’s rarely boring and Naïm speaks well about his work here.
Theatrical Trailer (1:55)
The trailer is presented in letterbox 1.85:1 and is good, giving the impression of an exciting thriller without giving away much of the plot.
Trailer Gallery (4:11)
Trailers are included for Saw and I Am David.
Making of Final Cut (26:22)
A good length documentary, this is also well put together with less of the self-congratulatory back-slapping usually found on these features and more of a look at how the whole film was put together from casting and shooting to editing and scoring the music. It also covers the interesting second unit photography which captures the Zoe, point-of-view shots.
Production Design Featurette (6:27)
James Chinlund talks about how the film avoids the clinical futuristic look of Minority Report. I think taking it as far as wooden laptops might be taking it a bit too far in the opposite direction, but the film nevertheless achieves its own look and feel.
Special Effects Featurette (4:45)
The Special Effects Supervisor, Raymond MacIntyre Jr. talks about the employment of computer graphics in the film, illustrating it with one scene. This is fairly technical and of limited interest.
Deleted Scenes (6:27)
Three short scenes, totalling less than 4 minutes are included, in letterbox 2.35:1 ratio. There is no commentary for the scenes, but there is nothing here that is vital.
From Pre-Production to Screen: Storyboards and On-Set Footage Comparisons
Two scenes are shown in split screen format, one with Alan and Delilah in Alan’s Apartment (2:39) and one of the Graveyard Scene (3:16) finale, showing the feature, the storyboard and on-set behind-the-scenes filming.
In many respects, The Final Cut is another by-the-numbers science-fiction thriller that plays with metaphysical concepts of memory and awareness. There’s little that’s new here and there are holes in the plot if you really want to look for them, but with a decent cast (barring Caviezel who is poor and Sorvino’s part which is badly underwritten), an impressive crew (the film is well photographed by Tak Fujimoto) a strong script and fine direction, Naïm delivers a thoughtful and entertaining film and shows himself to be a director worth keeping an eye on in the future. The DVD is of very fine quality, with a strong selection of extra features. This is definitely worth a look.