Gemini Man is a movie that I will forever remember I saw in theaters. Director Ang Lee has made a true technical marvel that pushes the boundaries of cinema. The film also happens to be a pretty entertaining spy-vs-spy thriller with a stellar performance from Will Smith. This isn’t a movie everyone is going get on board with, but it is one that had me from the opening frame.
Lee shot Gemini Man at 120 frames-per-second and for those who don’t know what that means, I am here to assist. Most movies and television shows are shot at 24 frames-per-second. It has really become the norm and what he have come to expect when we watch a movie or television show. So what is the effect of shooting a film at five-times the rate of a standard film or television show? The film will have a more realistic, smoother look to it. It will almost feel like the action on the screen is happening in real life right in front of you, eliminating that imaginary window we are used to. Almost everything on the screen will be in focus and the camera movement feel and look more like how it feel if the action were happening to us in the real world.
Gemini Man isn’t the first film to up the film-rate, let alone be the first for Lee. Earlier this decade, director Peter Jackson shot his Hobbit trilogy at 48 frames-per-second. Though only twice the standard rate, this was a very divisive decision that jarred audiences. But Lee saw an opportunity with the high frame rate and used it for his 2016 war drama, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk. Lee was years ahead of the game with this one, as the cameras they used to shoot Billy Lynn were very big and very loud and difficult to use, making the production of the film a complicated one. There also weren’t a lot of projectors that could project the film in the way Lee had intended. In its proper format, Billy Lynn was only shown on five screens around the world, not allowing people to see what he was trying to do.
With Gemini Man, however, it seems like time and technology have caught up with what Lee wanted to accomplish. There are a few ways to view this movie, but if you really want the full effect of what Lee is trying to do, you need to see the film in 3D high frame rate (HFR) and see it on the biggest screen possible. The opening scene of the movie, where hitman Henry Brogan (Will Smith) is trying to snipe his target while they sit on a speeding train is Lee showing us the power of this new format. Everything looks unbelievable. On the close-ups of Smith, we see every centimeter of his face, every wrinkle and every gray hair. For the long shots, the whole image is in focus and we see the trees and the grass in full clarity. Lee picked a perfect scene to start the movie out. It is one that doesn’t need a lot of context, but one that lets you stare in amazement at what 120 frames-per-second looks like on the big screen.
The high frame rate doesn’t take away from the overall movie, however. It is definitely the highlight of the film, but I got used to it as the film went on. The high frame rate was especially incredible during the action sequences and chase sequences, as the crispness of them made what would normally feel like run-of-the-mill action scenes feel fresh and exciting. There was one fight in particular that ends up in some water and with the high frame rate and the 3D, which is the best usage of 3D since James Cameron’s Avatar, the water seemed to be floating off the screen. I don’t think my jaw could have dropped any lower at that moment.
But when the movie isn’t focused on the action, this is an interesting, yet simple spy thriller about mortality, living with your past, and accepting your demons. After the train assassination, Brogan contemplates retirement only to find out that he is being hunted by the government agency he used to work for. Only, he isn’t being hunted by just any agent, he is being hunted by a cloned version of himself (also Will Smith with some great deaging technology). Smith is outstanding in both roles, but is best as older Brogan, a man haunted by his past who doesn’t want what happened to him happen to a new, younger version of himself. This performance felt like Will Smith coming to terms with his past success. The younger clone is quicker, faster, smarter and supposed to be the “better” version of Brogan, where the real Brogan is older, bitter, and haunted, yet just as good, if not better, than the younger clone. People will always look at Smith and remember his heyday in the late 90’s and 2000’s as the king of the box office and a perennial Oscar favorite. But that doesn’t mean Smith has lost a step, and here, he proves he is still a great actor who commands the screen.
Gemini Man is not going to be for everybody. This technology is years ahead of its time and when something like that comes along, people will dismiss it as weird or off-putting. But what Ang Lee has accomplished here is nothing short of astounding. I was in awe of the new technology and loved how the film looked. It also helps that the film has a cool plot and great Will Smith performance. Gemini Man might be different, but it’s a game-changer.
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