The ingenious concept behind Omar Naim's The Final Cut raises so many tantalizing questions—about morality, about memory, and about filmmaking itself—that it needed to be a great movie in order to be any good at all. A natural transition for the reality-TV generation, when everyone expects their lives to be filmed, Naim's not-so-distant future offers "Zoe implants," which are inserted into the heads of unborn babies, and then document entire lives from a first-person camera angle. When Zoe recipients die, their footage is handed over to a "cutter," who assembles the best parts of a person's life and presents a feature-length "Rememory screening" to loved ones at a wake. Of course, in doing so, the cutter has to edit out all the compulsive masturbation, spousal abuse, and other unflattering memories. And then there's the problem of Zoe implantees, who behave differently knowing that even their most private moments will be considered for posterity.
After coming up with this idea, Naim would have been better off handing it over to someone like Atom Egoyan, whose Speaking Parts and Calendar touched on the dangers of video images supplanting human experience and memory. Instead, Naim fashions it into a pedestrian thriller with a therapeutic twist, only partially exploring the fascinating implications of this technology. Of all the possible angles, he turns the narrative on a formative incident from a cutter's past that means everything to the character, but relatively little in the grand scheme of things.
Dialing down his shtick from manic to somnambulant, Robin Williams plays the best cutter in the business, a man noted for his discretion and artistry in delivering tasteful Rememories that comfort the bereaved. When an executive from ITech, the company responsible for the Zoe chips, becomes the first employee to release his implant, Williams gets the high-profile assignment, provided that he gloss over some disturbing footage of the man taking advantage of his underage daughter. When word leaks out, a group of anti-Zoe protesters, led by former cutter Jim Caviezel, will stop at nothing to get control of the implant. Meanwhile, Williams discovers clues about a haunting childhood accident.
Given the myriad possibilities, Williams' investigation into his past seems like a curious distraction, since the basic realities of his job—how he packages a life, how he withstands the voyeur role, how he elides footage that tugs at his conscience—prove far more interesting. Naim directs The Final Cut as if it were the pilot to a TV series: He teases the audience with all sorts of story threads, focuses on a minor self-contained mystery, and leaves the rest for future episodes that will never come. What's more, his feelings about the technology remain hopelessly confused, with a closing revelation that affirms the value of the implant that he's worked so strenuously to condemn. If only he could go back to the drawing board, Naim might really be on to something.