Code 46

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Review byMatthew Turner16/09/2004

Three out of Five stars
Running time: 92 mins

Low-key, thoughtful, well-written sci-fi with terrific location work and strong performances from its two leads.

Say what you like about British director Michael Winterbottom; at least he’s never predictable. Indeed, his genre-hopping career makes it seem as if Winterbottom has an almost pathological fear of being pigeon-holed.

Unnamed Bleak Future

Code 46 is his latest collaboration with acclaimed screenwriter Frank Cottrell Boyce (after the excellent 24 Hour Party People). As such, it’s a thoughtful, low-key sci-fi romance with an intelligent script and strong performances from both Morton and Robbins.

The film is set in an unnamed future where much of the world is desert and access to cities is strictly controlled. Tim Robbins plays William Geld, an investigator on the trail of fake ‘papelles’ (papers). However, after he uncovers the forger (Samantha Morton), he falls in love with her, so he conceals her crime and they have an affair.

When he then uses a fake ‘papelle’ to come and visit her again he discovers she has been arrested for a violation of Code 46 – an unauthorised sexual relationship with someone who is genetically related (and therefore incompatible).

The design of Code 46 is extremely impressive. Winterbottom and Boyce eschew special effects and expensive sets in favour of some terrific, unusual location work (much of the film was shot in Shanghai, as well as Dubai and Jaipur for the desert scenes) and an intelligent script that is peppered with familiar foreign words and phrases.

It’s to Boyce’s credit that this actually sounds convincing rather than jarring and it adds considerably to both the atmosphere and the realism of the film.

Robbins And Morton Excellent

Robbins and Morton are both excellent and there are some impressively tense sequences that play on the vaguely film noir-like aspects of the plot (detective falling for his suspect; amnesia; covering up a crime and hoping not to get caught).

There’s also good support from Om Puri and fans of a well-known soap opera can play Spot The EastEnder during the desert checkpoint scenes. (Okay, it’s Tariq – and he’s pretty good too).

If there’s a problem with the film it’s that it seems curiously muted at times, to the point where potentially emotional or dramatic scenes seem underplayed or undeveloped. It has a deliberately low-key approach that works well in places but leaves you wishing for more emotional depth in others.

That said, Code 46 is an interesting, intelligent, well-acted sci-fi film and that sort of thing doesn’t come along very often. Worth seeing.

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Code 46
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Content updated: 19/11/2019 14:36

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