This is one of those rare films—Pi and Primer are the only other recent entries that come to mind—that prove that you can do great, intelligent sci-fi with a tiny little budget. Moon is a bit more ostentatious than those two movies, and certainly features more special effects than both of them combined, but at heart it's a slow-burning thought piece.
A blue-collar worker named Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell) lives alone on an energy-mining colony on the moon. As he nears the end of his three-year hitch, he gradually starts to lose his mind. Sam suspects his HAL-like helper robot Gerty (voiced with delicious apathy by Kevin Spacey) of colluding with his superiors in some kind of a conspiracy. His wife and daughter's infrequent video messages from Earth only serve to frustrate Sam further. And just as he starts to prickle at his robotic companion, he encounters, impossibly, another Sam Bell, identical to him in almost every way, on the station. It's in these scenes—Rockwell interacting with Rockwell—where the movie really finds its power.
This is no Parent Trap. The split-screen effects are stunning, allowing the actor to get in close with himself and somehow build a palpable tension. Moon was written for Rockwell, and it is completely his show: He's in almost every scene and at times the movie feels so intimate that it could practically be a theatrical production. Rockwell does a fine job of staying somewhat likable (never entirely likable, to his credit), and, most notably, he never overacts.
Duncan Jones (incidentally, the son of David Bowie) displays remarkable confidence for a first-time director. At a Seattle International Film Festival appearance, he remarked on his desire to make a gritty, realistic '70s-style sci-fi film like Silent Running, Outland or Alien. Moon's steady inward gaze, and humble sense of scale, makes it a worthy heir to those films.
Moon opens at the Wilma Theatre Friday, July 10.