Rare is the 21st movie that spends 90 minutes on a single actor. This is one. Fortunately the actor is Sam Rockwell, who gives this science fiction classic double the fun. Rockwell is Sam Bell, an engineer ending a three-year Moon base stint in the employ of a mining monopoly (Lunar Industries) that harvests helium in a future time when the Earth depends on it. He wakes to rock, watches 60s and 70s reruns (“Bewitched” and Mary Tyler Moore), tends to plants (homage to “Silent Running”), and misses his wife and daughter, whom he sees only on tape delay — which begs the question why the delay, given his time’s sophisticated technology.
It all goes sour when his rover rams into a giant mining drone, leaving him in the keep of a 21st century HAL-9000 known Gerty (and who better to speak the part of Robotic Assistance 3000L than the preternaturally eerie Kevin Spacey). Suddenly Sam, awaiting a rescue mission, starts seeing… himself. And the tape-delay question gets an ingenious if nefarious answer.
Young British director Duncan Jones, David Bowie’s son, has sculpted a wonderful bit of space junk that hinges on disdain for corporate greed — the original “Alien” pioneered the genre — but serves up reflections on loneliness, paranoia and the prolonged effects of solitude. (Which his father got to in Nicolas Roeg’s “The Man Who Fell to Earth.”)
Sam is seeing double for a reason, and Jones gets around to the “why?” with little ado. He cares more for Sam’s unique fate than for special effects, with the Moon serving as a backdrop for a tale about the handing down of the survival instinct itself. Rockwell’s multi-faceted performance steals a show well worth owning. Mesmerizing piano-riff soundtrack by Clint Mansell.