Paycheck

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Paycheck

Cast:

Aside from the steady barrage of micro-budgeted left-wing documentaries, a chilling effect has kept American films (both inside and outside the studio system) from commenting on life during the Bush Administration, even in an indirect way. Based on a short story by paranoid futurist Philip K. Dick, whose work inspired the similar Minority Report, John Woo's smart thriller Paycheck may not intend to be political, but it's marked as much by its era as post-Watergate thrillers like The Parallax View or Three Days Of The Condor. In considering a machine that works like a giant crystal ball, the film questions the Bush Doctrine of preemptive warfare, saying that once the future can be predicted with any degree of certainty, the world is destined to be destroyed. Of course, like most science fiction that contends with such fortune telling, Paycheck gets snared by the usual questions of free will versus predestination, raising all the unavoidable paradoxes that are impossible to resolve. But the inherent slips of logic do nothing to undermine the Dickian anxieties at the story's core, which looks to the future in order to comment meaningfully on the present. Before it even gets to these juicy ideas, Paycheck opens with a tantalizing proposition: For the right price, would someone be willing to forfeit weeks, months, or even years worth of experiences and memories? For Ben Affleck, a specialist in reverse engineering for a corporate giant with the fitting name Allcom, the answer is "yes," so long as he can tape the Red Sox playoff games. After Affleck finishes a top-secret job, company technicians eradicate the relevant memories from his brain. When boss Aaron Eckhart offers him an eight-figure fee for a three-year project, Affleck wakes to discover that he's forfeited the money for an envelope full of seemingly worthless items that lead him around like a trail of breadcrumbs. Teaming up with Allcom biologist Uma Thurman, Affleck has to evade corporate henchmen and the FBI, which gives Woo (Hard-Boiled, Face/Off) plenty of opportunities to indulge in his famously kinetic, hyper-stylized action sequences. By staying closely aligned to its hero's perspective, Paycheck follows him straight down the rabbit hole, playing off his disorientation and panic as he gradually pieces together the larger picture. Though the envelope's contents allow for more impossible conveniences than a pile of unproduced Joe Eszterhas screenplays, Woo's wonderful sense of timing and rhythm incorporates them smoothly into the whole, making each one a key opening to new revelations. With an Everyman like Affleck in the lead role, Paycheck inspires a reassuring fantasy that the future isn't yet beyond anyone's command.