Heroes of the Zeroes: District 9
Heroes of the Zeroes is Nick Rogers’ daily, alphabetical look back at the 365 best films of 2000-2009.
The most audacious, auspicious sci-fi debut in years, Neill Blomkamp’s modest-budget “District 9” threw together xenophobic satire, political allegory and raucous action in a knockabout package reminiscent of Paul Verhoeven’s finest work.
What grounded this 2009 story of extraterrestrial occupation in South Africa gone incredibly wrong was a dynamic lead performance from Sharlto Copley — an actor who will hopefully go from no-name to huge name.
He’s Wikus Van De Merwe, a bureaucratic stooge overseeing the relocation of aliens — whose ship has hovered over Earth and who have inhabited a shantytown named District 9 — to a new development. Wikus eventually is thrown into an unexpected alliance with the “prawns” as an alien engineer attempts to send his ship home.
Looking like a dorky Fiennes cousin who got razzed in the schoolyard, Copley colors Wikus with prejudice, comedy, despair, paranoia, bravado and, however reluctantly, courage — eliciting a conflicting, occasionally infuriating balance of revulsion and sympathy.
Blomkamp and Terri Tatchell’s script also instigates meaty discussions of apartheid, adding an achingly true layer of prejudice in which oppressed blacks can engage. It’s one of many improbably harmonious elements in Blomkamp’s immersive, detailed world, which also includes comments upon propaganda and the military-industrial complex.
“District 9” earns a blockbuster-action finale — in which bad-guy bodies explode like water balloons at their breaking point — with character revelations and redemptions as rousing and glorious as the awesome firefights and chases. It ends not with sequel bait but possibilities for more deeply exploring thematic questions. “District 10”? Yes, please.