November Nouveau: Respectful Reel Review # 21 – Total Recall (2012)


Total Recall




Science Fiction / Action


Colin Farrell, Kate Beckinsale, Jessica Biel, Bryan Cranston, Bokeem Woodbine, John Cho, Bill Nighy


Len Wiseman


When a factory worker named Douglas Quaid visits Rekall in order to get exciting memories implanted in his mind, he gets more than he bargained for when his desires of becoming a secret agent might actually be closer to reality than he first dreamed and finds himself on the run as a consequence.


What is real? What is recall?


Due to chemical warfare the world has been rendered practically uninhabitable except for two territories in Great Britain and Australia. There’s a transportation system that utilizes a maglev type elevator to commute the citizenry through the earth’s core from one area to the other area. A Resistance is contesting treatment and the working conditions of the indigent workforce, while Douglas Quaid dreams of being a secret agent. During his commute, Quaid is seen reading an Ian Fleming James Bond novel.

Bored with his job building police robots, Quaid decides to go to Rekall to get a fantasy memory implanted where he might relive (as if a real memory) a fictional adventure that he so chooses. He opts for the secret agent adventure package, but as he has been forewarned by a technician, a false memory cannot replace a true memory, so if you have a real-life mistress, a fantasy mistress cannot replace the reality.

As the technician begins to load the memory, it is discovered that Quaid is already a secret agent and hence the technology will prove ineffective. Just as Quaid is being released from the implantation chair, the police arrive and begin to kill the Rekall staff while attempting to arrest Quaid. He resists and kills the entire squad of police.

When he arrives home, his wife is listening to the news that is covering the deaths at Rekall. Quaid confesses that he killed them, but his wife — Lori — does not believe him. She asks, “How did you do that? Did you hit them with your book?” (I think they nailed that dialogue perfectly. I think I know women like that. Sounds like every woman I have ever loved.)

Lori attempts to kill Quaid, revealing that she has only lived with him for six weeks, that he had his memories manipulated, and that she is an operative for the other side, ostensibly keeping tabs on him.

Upon escaping Lori and a host of other police, Quaid receives a call on his hand phone from a former colleague that informs him that they worked together, directs him to a bank with a safety deposit box, and tells him to ditch the hand phone because it has activated as a tracer. The deposit box leads him to an apartment, but he is pursued by Lori and it is only when Melina saves him (the woman from his dreams) that he realizes that he really might be an actual agent named Carl Hauser.

Obviously there is way more to this convoluted plot, but I will leave it here so I do not reveal any major spoilers or important story beats. Needless to say once the reveal at Rekall occurs the pace of the story hastens to a near nerve-wrecking, pulse-pounding, breath-stealing speed. With that having been said, I start my review.


There are several things I want to make clear about the story. This movie, and the previous Total Recall movie are both based on the classic short story by Philip K. Dick, We Can Remember it for You Wholesale. Jessica Biel made a claim that this movie was not a remake, and I completely disagree with her. I think in her justified attempt at giving Dick credit for the original concept (he is uncredited in this movie but not in the 1990 version) she goes too far the other way.

Many of the named characters do not exist in the short story by Dick, but they do exist in the 1990 version, so in all the important ways — including the story beats — this is a remake and when last year, Ericka Henry Asked Two Grey Geeks if there was a remake better than the original, I would have to say that IMHO this qualifies. I have read the short story. I have watched the 1990 version. Now, I have watched this version and this one is better.

Here, the cinematography is cramped and striated with overpopulated shots and buildings packed together almost hovering over each other where even trying to take a breath on your veranda feels like a weight is on your chest, the smells of sweat and vehicle emissions, cloying, invasive, overpowering. The heat is an overt presence on everything.

The dialogue is real with quips that are meant to convey humor, but they are delivered with such bitterness that they feel barbed and hurtful. In fact, I would say that there is very little humor here. The weight of the words seem like blunt instruments, weapons used to have just barely fended off the apocalypse.

The action set pieces are incredibly well-choreographed, with high octane speed, and high caliber bullets spraying chaos in a space so overcrowded that collateral damage is a given, acceptable, desired even.

The acting is perfect. The actors deliver their art as people living on borrowed time would, weighted by the drudgery of living in a dystopian society on the verge of extinction. This is a Mad Max kind of future and when the action heads to the highways, the action is thrown into overdrive.

Finally, the best part for me was that in the 1990 version, the ending is in doubt, but not here. In this movie, the audience receives a real payoff ending.

I always try to figure out if there is something that I would change about this movie. I can’t think of anything.

That’s right, you awesome and beautiful geeks. This movie is incredibly good IMHO! Take that and smoke it. I love the dystopian society. I love the motivations. I love the set pieces, the action, the desperation that hovers over everything. Check it out and let me know what you think.

2 thoughts on “November Nouveau: Respectful Reel Review # 21 – Total Recall (2012)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s