Starring Julianne Moore, Mark Ruffalo, and Don McKellar. Rated 18A. Opens Friday, October 3, at the Fifth Avenue Cinemas and the Cinemark Tinseltown
Whatever poetry was found in Portuguese writer José Saramago's book, here called Blindness, has been squelched by Canuck film veteran Don McKellar's thin script and hamfisted direction by Brazilian Fernando Meirelles.
To begin with, sightlessness as a metaphor for what is going on in the world today, with corporations choking resources out of the planet while dumbing down the populace, is too obvious to contemplate with mere generalities. Yet the filmmakers follow the book's formula, with characters unparticularized by things like names, histories, or talents.
Even the location is anonymous; this Japan/Canada/Brazil coproduction was mostly shot in Guelph and Sí£o Paulo, to give you that truly displaced feeling.
The Japanese component is provided by Sukiyaki Western Django's Yusuke Iseya as the first citizen to suddenly go blind in an epidemic that soon engulfs the film's mythologized society.
McKellar plays a rat who steals the blind man's car before literally bumping into the other principals, including a hard-bitten hooker (Alice Braga), a caring eye doctor (Mark Ruffalo), and the doc's tough wife (Julianne Moore). The last-named miraculously retains her sight when the group is dumped into maximum-security quarantine, where things devolve into a brutally graphic Lord of the Flies scenario after the place is taken over by a sadistic criminal played by Gael García Bernal.
The film's heavy lifting is done by the art direction and overall visual style; Uruguayan César Charlone also shot the director's breakthrough, City of God. Playing yet another sage peacemaker, Danny Glover appears to have been airlifted in for a few scenes at the start and finish, mainly to deliver expository dialogue taken from the novel.
The project had good intentions, but these are entirely undone when you realize, early in the grim proceedings, that the image of blindness itself adds almost nothing to the discussion of what makes people so dumb in the first place.