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Photo: ‘Naked Singularity’
Director Chase Palmer’s feature film debut bursts onto the scene full of riveting ideas and aspirations of greatness. Based on a book of the same name by Sergio De La Pava, ‘Naked Singularity’ is provocative and profound; a cocktail of themes it tries to mix together, inspiring its audience to think deep, while stimulating those who’re already deep thinkers, to begin with. It’s supported by a fast-paced, hilarious script that crackles with kinetic energy, and even though it’s reinforced with double meaning and positive messages, it never comes off as pandering or preachy. It’s a film that strives for a higher purpose, but although the work effort is there, it’s questionable as to whether or not ‘Naked Singularity’ has the patience or the confidence needed to meet its own expectations.
‘Naked Singularity’ sometimes seems overwhelmed by its own wisdom, its dense narrative weighing heavily on the story like a guilty conscience, dragging its quality down a couple of notches. Palmer comes across as more focused on enlightenment than entertainment as his story progresses, the film eventually losing some control over the same creative ideas it’s eager to dive into. The execution isn’t flawless and has a couple of hiccups, but ‘Naked Singularity’ is definitely a cerebral experience that aims to encourage powerful discussion, not just about the film, but about the universe around us.
In ‘Naked Singularity’, Some Laws Are Meant To Be Broken
‘Naked Singularity’ stars John Boyega as Casi, a down on his luck public defender who has a habit of going above and beyond when it comes to defending his clients, even if that means bending the rules a bit for the sake of a greater good. He tries to find, or create, constitutional loopholes when the justice system in place might do more harm than good to his misunderstood defendants. ‘Naked Singularity’ opens up with Casi already trying to pull a fast one on the law, attempting to reduce a non-English speaking Chinese man’s time in jail by convincing him to nod to the judge’s inevitable non-guilty plea. But this backfires, leading to extra jail time for his client, who must now wait in jail for a Chinese-speaking lawyer to represent him.
To make matters worse, Casi’s actions lead to stern and emphatic warning from the judge, who’s growing less tolerant of his deceptive practices. Unfortunately, Casi can’t help himself, and attempts to keep another one of his clients out of jail using highly questionable methods, jeopardizing his career as a result. Casi functions like the law’s conscience, one that lady justice tries to silence or remove at all costs, because the system has no room for sympathy or empathy when imposing its will on its criminals. ‘Naked Singularity’ implies that this lack of conscience could sometimes be catastrophic for those who have a genuine chance at redemption if the right opportunities present themselves. Blind justice sometimes lacks the insight to recognize the individual circumstances leading towards a life of crime, especially as it pertains to immigrants or people of color, which can result in an unequal exchange between justice and punishment.
Its commentary on social injustices, and the rigidity of the law, provide enough material any courtroom drama would love to sink its teeth into. But ‘Naked Singularity’ is much more than a courtroom drama, and is just as fascinated with the laws of physics as it is with the laws of justice, as if the two are intertwined in some invisible cosmic sense. The planet, and by virtue the universe, is seemingly glitching all around Casi. Untraceable blackouts are constantly disrupting the city, the temperature is always fluctuating at around 150 degrees. There’s also a countdown that’s reminding its audience the universe has a certain amount of days until it collapses.
You’re not entirely sure how the universe will collapse or why it’s happening, but the clues are all around the movie, and if nothing else you want to stick around for the potential fireworks that might come with an imploding reality. Ironically, Casi’s universe begins to shift as soon as his life spirals out of control thanks to a client that involves him in a drug deal. The aforementioned client, Lea played by Olivia Cooke, indirectly offers Casi the chance to make millions off of a once-in-a-lifetime drug transaction. As Casi weighs the pros and cons of this opportunity, the laws of physics seem to bend even further out of shape. There’s clearly a correlation between the choices Casi makes and the universe’s own impending doom, but that correlation isn’t explored as well as it should be.
Ideas That Aren’t Fully Realized
The movie encourages you to solve a complicated puzzle without giving you all the pieces. It wants you to postulate theories about its meaning, but it’s debatable as to whether or not it earns that level of attention from its audience. As the movie progresses, the plot doesn’t unravel, but rather it becomes more entangled. Casi and Lea’s plan to leave with millions of dollars in drug money might come off, at best illogical, and at worst incomprehensible, depending on the viewing habits of its audience.
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Casi’s motivation for jeopardizing his life for dirty money also comes off as a little half-baked and under-developed. You can definitely see why Casi might be willing to take the risk, but it isn’t clearly defined, and focusing on a fairly upstanding lawyer who ends up corrupted enough to steal drug money was a story that would’ve been worth putting more emphasis on. The chemistry between Casi and Lea, who eventually ends up becoming his love interest, feels inorganic. The script doesn’t give their relationship the care or build-up it deserves, which is an unfortunate side effect of a movie trying to squeeze in too many ideas.
‘Naked Singularity’ Flaunts Characters That Are Full Of Depth
Although the narrative has room for improvement, ‘Naked Singularity’ occasionally gets by with uniquely written characters that are a pleasure to watch. Boyega’s Casi is a young, hungry attorney with a slight chip on his shoulder that frequently represents the downtrodden lower class. He’s a reminder that you’re not always doing the right thing when you’re upholding the law, and good isn’t synonymous with justice. As a lawyer of the new school, it’s also particularly interesting watching Casi joust with the judge, who’s a much older female with very strict and rigid views on the system. You just can’t help but feel like you’re witnessing the clash of two generations and their ideals.
Casi is also given justice by a powerful performance by Boyega that cements his place as one of the topmost underutilized working talents in the business today. Meanwhile, Cooke completely loses herself in Lea, who, much like Casi’s other clients, is trapped working a dead-end job in a dead-end life because of a criminal record she can’t scrub away. Her inability to escape her past is really what motivates Lea to do business with a drug dealer, which echoes the film’s commentary of the justice system doing more harm than good when it comes to rehabilitation. It’s a shame that the film didn’t do more to prop up Lea’s relationship with Casi, since the two truly are extremely intriguing characters capable of great chemistry if the story would’ve allowed it.
Bill Skarsgard’s Dane was a pleasant surprise, as his role amounts to more than just being Casi’s best friend. Dane is brimming with philosophical ideologies about multiple worlds and parallel realities, at times almost acting as an avatar for the movie’s message. The script and Skarsgard give Dane a sharp wit and energy that makes him a fun character to hang around. Unlike with Lea, Skarsgard’s chemistry with Boyega’s Casi is believable and natural, really selling the bond the two of them share.
Honorable mentions go to Ed Skrein’s Craig, Lea’s boyfriend who drags her into his drug business, and Angus played by Tim Blake Nelson. Angus is Casi’s physicist roommate who’s constantly warning Casi about reality’s inevitable destruction, with a great performance that seemed to channel the scientist he played in 2008’s ‘The Incredible Hulk’. Both of these characters give their roles strong performances that help enhance the cast’s acting as a whole.
‘Naked Singularity’ has the ingredients of a great film, but it’s not sure how to bring those ingredients together to cook up something memorable. Its great ideas are scrambled by disorganized execution, and the payoff is somewhat underwhelming, failing to bring it all together in a cohesive way. Still, ‘Naked Singularity’ deserves praise for its unique creativity and interesting social commentary that tries to give its audience a message to take home with them after the credits roll.
Cast: John Boyega, Olivia Cooke, Bill Skarsgard, Ed Skrein
Directed by: Chase Palmer | Written by: Chase Palmer, David Matthews
By Tony Stallings
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Tony Stallings is an avid follower of the entertainment industry who uses his passion for writing to relay meaningful, positive messages and narratives from the world of Hollywood. Tony doesn’t just focus on covering entertainment, but delving into it. He prides himself on focusing on the bigger picture, concerned with how entertainment culture affects and shapes the world at large with utmost honesty. Tony’s dedication to journalistic integrity, reliability and passion is a common bond that he shares with Hollywood Insider, and he’s eager to help people recognize the value of entertainment through their platform.