Review: Paycheck – Let the future be untold (4/5)

Paycheck (IMDB, Amazon) is a story about Michael Jennings (Ben Affleck) who is an engineer, or to be more precise a reverse engineer. Michael is paid to take competitor’s work and reverse engineer it into something his employees can make into a products of their own.

Since it would be very bad if information about whose technology was reverse engineered into what, Michael’s assistant Shorty (Paul Giamatti) helps removing all of Michael’s memories of the project once work is finished.

A once in a lifetime opportunity comes along as Michael’s old friend Rethrick (Aaron Eckhart) offers him work that will give him stocks in Rethrick’s promised-to-become-great company. Michael takes on the three year project, even if he risks losing his memory for the whole period, and that of a probably blooming romance with one of Rethrick’s employees, doctor in biochemistry, Rachel Porter (Uma Thurman).

Three years passes, Michael finds himself back where he once begun, in Rethrick’s office, his memory wiped and all that stands between him and his millions, a trip to the bank.

That is however, when problem starts, because Michael finds not only has he switched the personal effects he once had to leave before entering Rethrick’s employee, he has also forfeited a 100 million dollars worth of stocks in Rethrick’s company.

Why did Michael say no to the money and, of significantly less importance, what became of his personal effects? Michael soon realizes his former employees and the FBI are out to get him, and his bag of assorted effects seems to be the only thing that keeps him ahead of the game. A game, that if lost, could cost him his life…

You can read the whole review by clicking the below link, but there may be spoilers in that text…

The main theme in Paycheck revolves around the future. People are not supposed to know the future and if they are told what will happen in the future their lives are taken away from them, and loses purpose and meaning. Paycheck is also about mankind and our destructive use of technology, and how, like the men that invented the Atom bomb, we sometimes believe ourselves to invent something that will give us peace when in fact it threatens to destroy us completely.

The central Sci-fi artifact in Paycheck is a machine that through a kind of palmistry can read a persons future. It turns out Michael Jennings has looked into his future and found that if the machine is allowed to continue working it will predict a great war, that mankind (or perhaps as usual U.S.) will go to war in order to prevent… which of course will set the nukes flying, ending if not all of civilization at least one major metropolitan, most certainly several.

Love is another theme in Paycheck, and the acting between Affleck and Thurman is one of the nicer things about the movie, and being a kind of sucker for romance myself, I find it smooths over a few otherwise rough spots.

One of my major complaints about this movie is the copious amount of car chases. In this aspect it is almost as bad as The Island (IMDB, Amazon) where the main characters spends about half the movie running or fleeing from someone or something. It must be possible to create drama and action without chase scenes!

However, the largest problem I find in this story is the twenty items in the paper envelope. This is a key element to the story and as far as I can imagine how time and time manipulation would work, Michael should have failed after using his first item.

The problem is that the items fits like puzzle pieces into Michael’s future, but once the first puzzle piece is used, the future changes. All of a sudden it wont be as easy to predict where the next piece will fit, unless of course, the machine can work with several possible futures and apply probability theory, which would still make the items further down the line less probable matches than the ones in the beginning…. something I judge not to be portrayed correctly in the movie.

Another funny thing about the movie is the number of braincells needed to remove Michael’s memory of his first assignment (the A-life woman). I count four, possibly five braincells…. now now… I think it’s a bit more complex than that. Speaking of removing memories… anyone wondering who removes Shorty’s memories once he’s seen what Michael remembered? Or is he an employee of (was it Nextgen?)

Finally, having just plowed through Alias (IMDB, Amazon) I have to wonder how long Michael will stay dead and disappeared when he so openly affiliate himself with his old pal Shorty’s plant nursery. After all, shouldn’t it take FBI about two hours to figure out Shorty is a good person to keep tabs on, and another fifteen minutes to bring Michael in and continue their interrogation where the fire alarm interrupted them earlier… where the Palmistry-machine predicts he will meet his demise, by the way.

Despite these obvious short comings of the movie I’ve found it to be good entertainment, the relation between Michael and Rachel, and the thought of predicting the future and it’s consequences handled in a very probable and refreshing way. I give Paycheck 4 out of five stars.

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