It's another Michael Winterbottom film. While many whinge about the state of The Industry, the 43-year-old Brit is boshing out his 11th feature in nine years. Remarkable, even if his movies are fascinating rather than amazing, the seed of quality not given time to sprout. Not that his last few releases have felt rushed. In fact, the triumvirate of The Claim, 24 Hour Party People and In This World signal the emergence of an auteur to rival Leigh or Loach for consistency of vision, but with more range and ambition.
Code 46 typifies his intentions, blending romance and sci-fi with shadings of noir, painting a perceptive portrait of the near future. Without the techno-love gee-whizz factor of, say, Minority Report, 46 doesn't offer future shock so much as surprise, bringing our corporation-controlled, globalised existence to its logical conclusion.
So we get a sun-flayed Earth where we can only work at night; a world where clone-fuelling genetic trickery affects relationships; and a regimented society where the poor are exiled to desert wastelands beyond the city limits. It's a sinister but unsensationalist glimpse of what could be, no doubt informed by Winterbottom's experience travelling underground from Afghanistan to the UK for In This World's refugee drama. Speaking English littered with foreign words and phrases, the leads convince as two contrasts cast together in a shimmering, beautifully photographed Shanghai. Tim Robbins was, according to Winterbottom, ill at ease with the director's on-the-hoof shooting style. But his uptightness serves the character well, as William wonders just why he's drawn to Samantha Morton's sensual, rebellious Maria. The reason, which we won't reveal here, is hinted at in the opening credits, which explain the title's meaning as a law relating to genetics.
But Code 46 isn't about a great twist or even a great deal of tension. It's an atmospheric visit to a smartly realised world, touching on issues that dominate headlines today and our lives tomorrow. It's a subtle film that some may find a little too chilly to truly enjoy. Yet the cumulative effect of its understated moments of emotion make for a code well worth cracking.
A cerebral sci-fi drama where the romance is less involving than the ideas debated. Still, Winterbottom's winner is original and demanding.