September 11, 2006
Screened at the Toronto International Film Festival in advance of its release, this co-production between France, Luxembourg, and England was shot using a combination of motion capture and rotoscopy. Set in Paris, 2054, the film tells a familiar neo-noir tale about a hard-bitten cop, Captain Karas (Daniel Craig) of Section K, tasked with finding Ilona Tasuyiev (Romola Garai), a promising young researcher for the ubiquitous Avalon corporation, whose slogan is: "We're on your side for life." Naturally, things go from bad to worse for Karas, as he embroils himself ever deeper in Avalon's evil machinations, falls hard for Ilona's bad-girl sister Bislane (Catherine McCormack), and finds himself re-connecting with an old Arabic gangland friend.
Most other summaries of this film mention Frank Miller and Sin City. The comparison is tough to ignore, if only for the high-contrast black and white presentation and the brief-but-meaningful violence. However, the film closely resembles Shinichiro Watanabe's "Detective Story" portion of The Animatrix, and its plotline, which other reviewers found difficult to unravel, owes more to Jin-Roh and The Maltese Falcon than anything by Miller. Lovers of noir will have no trouble understanding Karas' struggle to find Ilona, or where Avalon's dirty secrets fit in.
The animation is also beautiful, and the blend of motion capture and rotoscope lets even small details like pinched lips or a surreptitious glance come through. Volckman takes great pains to add texture where there is no color, depicting a Paris with a Byzantine underground, controlled by crime bosses who bring to mind Sydney Greenstreet. The Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame blend in seamlessly with graffitti, post-modern Blade Runner architecture, and the animators' special treat—lovingly re-created snow and rain. (Curiously, the brief flame effect left something to be desired. It was blurry, more of a fire-signifier than anything else.) The film also spends a long time on reflections in water and glass, which are rendered believably. In addition, it's impossible not to bring up Nicholas Dodd's dead-on score, which also "colours" the film. The foley work here is sharp, too—sound often makes up for the lack of colour or immediately-recognizable star-power.
In short, see it. It's a triumph for Western animation that seeks to compete on the feature-length adult market. With any luck, the support for this one will be exactly what it deserves, and we will see more in this vein.