‘Reminiscence’ Review: Hugh Jackman Plays Detective in This Post-Apocalyptic Thriller

Reminiscence Film Photo
Rebecca Ferguson and Hugh Jackman star in ‘Reminiscence’ (Photo Credit: Ben Rothstein © 2021 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc)

Warner Bros. Pictures’ Reminiscence is a detective story with a sci-fi twist, a dystopian tale in which time isn’t a one-way stream and it’s possible to relive the best moments of your life via special technology. With the idea of accessing the past as the jumping off point, writer/director Lisa Joy weaves a complex story full of startling twists.

Reminiscence takes place in a post-apocalyptic world in which oceans have overtaken cities and temperatures have soared to a point where human inhabitants have been forced to become nocturnal. The rising sea levels have made much of Miami uninhabitable, and only one-percenters can afford living in the Dry Lands – areas surrounded by dams that keep the water at bay.

Nick Bannister (Hugh Jackman) lives and works in the flooded area, operating a business that allows clients to step into a tank, strap on electrodes, and slip away into memories of happier times. Along with his platonic partner Watts (Thandiwe Newton), Nick uses this technology originally created for interrogations to provide brief moments of respite from the suffering and hardship of life in a world gone mad.

The technology requires Nick to act as a guide to prompt each client into the right frame of mind to bring up a memory. Once retrieved, Nick and Watts are witnesses to these very private, personal memories that play out like movies on a special stage.

Nick’s world is spun off its axis when a stunning woman seeking the location of her lost keys requests a session in the tank. Mae (Rebecca Ferguson) is absolutely striking and Nick is instantly ensnared after only a brief exchange of words. He’s caught up watching her memories come alive and uses the return of earrings she left behind as an excuse to seek her out at The Cotton Club.

The two begin a passionate relationship and Nick falls head over heels for the sultry singer. Watts, on the other hand, recognizes a femme fatale when she sees one and when Mae suddenly disappears, she urges Nick to move on with his life. He can’t. Nick’s incapable of forgetting Mae and becomes obsessed with discovering why she left.

Nick’s search for answers leads him down a rabbit hole and into the world of drug dealers, crooked cops, and murder.

Lisa Joy’s noir, post-apocalyptic thriller offers a unique twist on a detective story with the use of recorded videos of key memories as investigative tools. Nick’s pursuit of Mae plunges the detective into a downward spiral and into repeated use of the tank to recall details from each of the days he spent with Mae before she mysteriously disappeared. The memories propel Nick forward in his investigation in a completely unexpected but logical way; writer/director Joy does not bend the rules she’s set forth in unraveling the twisted, non-linear story.

Lisa Joy’s auspicious directorial debut is a gorgeous production and is in many ways reminiscent of Westworld which she co-created with her husband, Jonathan Nolan. The production design, score, and visual effects are effective in establishing this water-logged world.

Much of the exposition delivered by Jackman’s Nick seems to be written as an homage to classic crime films of the ’40s and ’50s. It’s effective but a little overdone, and Jackman’s narration at times sounds eerily like Rod Serling’s introduction of The Twilight Zone episodes. It’s unclear if it was meant to remind of us Serling, but either way it’s jarring.

At its core, Reminiscence is a love story. Hugh Jackman and Rebecca Ferguson sizzle, and the film’s at its best when it focuses on their relationship.

Joy wisely sought out Westworld star Thandiwe Newton to play Watts, a badass with a heart of gold who keeps her true feelings hidden for much of the film. Newton and Jackman make the partnership between Watts and Nick feel as though they’ve been part of each other’s lives for decades. Joy also brought in Westworld’s Angela Sarafyan in a pivotal role, and Sarafyan’s terrific in her limited time on screen.

Two twist-filled thrillers open on August 20, 2021, but only one tells a cohesive story worth investing time and money to watch. The Night House delivers a significant amount of chills and features one of the best performances of 2021 (delivered by Rebecca Hall), but the complex series of twists laid out over the film’s first two acts are wasted by a dreadful third act. Lisa Joy’s Reminiscence actually connects the dots in a satisfying manner.


MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sexual content, drug material throughout, some strong language, and strong violence

Release Date: August 20, 2021 in theaters and HBO Max

Running Time: 1 hour 56 minutes

Studio: Warner Bros. Pictures