Cert – 15, Run-time – 2 hours 18 minutes, Director – Adam McKay
Astronomers Dr. Randall Mindy (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Kate Dibiasky (Jennifer Lawrence) set out to tell the world of a large comet set to wipe out all life on Earth in just six months time, after the American government and major tech companies fail to react, instead looking at how they can gain from the event.
There’s an almost unexpected sense of anxiety and panic within Adam McKay’s Don’t Look Now. An increasingly thick feeling of real-world doom as the seemingly unstoppable impact of a planet-destroying comet grows ever closer and increasingly politicised. For months astronomers Dr. Randall Mindy (Leonardo DiCaprio) and university student Kate Dibiasky (Jennifer Lawrence) have been trying to tell the world of the planet killer which is just six months away, however the best they’ve gotten is becoming social media memes or daytime TV personalities. Getting the word out themselves, even with the help of a great Rob Morgan as key NASA figure Dr. Teddy Oglethrope, has proved more difficult than they thought, after the response from the American government and major tech companies has been about how the comet can be used for their own gain, both personally and in the eyes of the public.
Yet, McKay’s latest strays away from just targeting such figures. It’s certainly not a “nobody is safe” type film, but Don’t Look Up is the least specifically targeted of his more recent efforts. Showing how the world may very well react, or indeed fail to react, if threatened with impending, but potentially stoppable, doom. Jabs at social media and growing trends in relation to the event feel well done and at points unfortunately believable, increasing the level of engagement and satire within the piece. It balances the bursts of humour – not always jabs or shouting for attention to be recognised as parallels to the real world – well with the lightly (yet growing) dramatic nature that it largely holds throughout. As DiCaprio and Lawrence become increasingly frustrated and worried about what will happen to them and the whole planet if nothing is done.
Unlike McKay’s previous film Vice where the central figures were meant to be unlikable this is a film where largely the main characters are in the right – even if on some occasions they do go down predictably wrong and questionable routes as their influential statuses grow from their TV presences. The villains, wrongdoers, and figures who are trying to profit from the death of the planet are those which cause the frustration, but we’re not meant to connect with them meaning that it’s easier to connect with the film as a whole. What further helps the piece is that it feels more narrative than character led, allowing for a sense of interest to be sparked when it comes to how things are going to pan out. In this slightly recognisable satirical world it does feel as if anything could happen by the very end.
Where the film becomes more of a commentary on political divide is in the second hour where Mindy and Dibiasky almost get pushed aside for a short amount of time. It gives chance for Meryl Streep’s slogan-branded-cap-donning, undeniably Trump-influenced President to take to the stage and develop her side-arc in the build-up to the finale, working with tech billionaire Peter Isherwell (Mark Rylance – perhaps the only truly naff performance in a film that has its fair share of (not so) heightened parody, see Jonah Hill as the President’s son and slightly ignored chief of staff, and a very funny Ron Perlman as a Medal of Honor recipient with views of “a different generation”) to gain precious elements from the comet. However, once the original pairing properly return after a brief 20 minute breather the film comes back to form in multiple ways. DiCaprio’s anger is felt, creating a sense of unease and tension that is truly felt in his on-air rants on an otherwise light-hearted gossip show (anchored by the booze and banter-fuelled personas of Cate Blanchett and Tyler Perry). Fear begins to set in during a number of highlight scenes as the film truly hurtles through its final stages, with the viewer never quite knowing where, or how, it will end.
It’s certainly well-handled by McKay who keeps track of the events well and makes sure the viewer is aware of the increasing panic throughout the film, while still managing to create a well-balanced satire and light drama. The chuckles are there, but so is the growing anger within DiCaprio and Lawrence, both of whom are strong leads in bringing the viewer on board and into the unfolding narrative, with the various figures who don’t appear to be treating the extinction-level threat with the seriousness that the astronomers think (know) that it should be. It makes for an enjoyable, sometimes uneasy, watch; perhaps just as McKay intended. Not specifically targeting one group of people, capturing a fair deal of the modern day in its representations, responses and reactions to the events that pan out over the mostly quickly-passing run-time.
Perhaps Don’t Look Up is a film very much of its time, it certainly feels like it is – largely in regards to some of the political references which luckily don’t feel too out of date as of the moment – but, for the time and this very moment it’s a film that largely works. Creating both knockbacks, tension and humour through its modern leanings and depictions, much of which is caught through the frustration of the DiCaprio and Lawrence’s central two figures who help bring you on board and into the flow of the luckily event led narrative.
With a narrative led more by events than characters Don’t Look Up manages to stir up tension and occasional humour within its largely well-acted drama. Rattling along with a fine pace to keep your engagement it may be of its time, but very successfully so.