Movie Review: “Naked Singularity”

Movies don’t always have to make complete sense. The question is whether or not as we watch them we understand enough of what’s going on to enjoy them; whether there’s enough there to make us want to watch the entire movie again, or to make us want to think about what we’ve seen and try to get to the bottom of it. Clearly with director Chase Palmer’s “Naked Singularity,” there is a lot happening. It is a heist movie, it is a movie about the criminal justice system and the inequities therein, it is a movie about worlds collapsing into one another. Certainly, after watching it once, I don’t have a good understanding of all the ins and outs, but I do have a desire to know more.

John Boyega leads the cast here as a public defender, Casi. Often on the wrong side of judges for his rather free way of speaking and approaching problems, Casi is conned by a coworker, Dane (Bill Skarsgård), into helping out a former client, Lea (Olivia Cooke), when she finds herself in legal trouble once more. Lea’s issues this time are the result of her not sending away a guy, Craig (Ed Skrein), who was clearly doing nefarious things trying to get a car out of the impound lot at which she works and now the cops are interested in her.

Palmer’s movie comes from a script he wrote with David Matthews and is based on the novel “A Naked Singularity” by Sergio De La Pava. It is, at a minimum, weird. The truth is that as interesting and engrossing as the movie is, one can’t help but feel that there are pieces missing. How does this entire worlds collapsing into one another thing work? Is that explored in the novel? It undoubtedly is an important piece of this movie, but there’s an argument that might be made that the whole of the idea is in Casi’s head and not actually happening. Who knows, Maybe the blackouts that are occurring all across the city are just blackouts due to the heat, not part of a larger multiverse issue.

All of that sci-fi at first seems out of place as one of the truly interesting things about the movie is that it opens as though it were a legal drama. It opens as though this were going to be the story of one man doing everything he can to fight against the system. We get several great scenes early on with Casi trying to get his clients free, including moments where he has to fight against a judge, Cymbeline (Linda Lavin). This portion of the film is incredibly strong and engrossing. Watching it play out, we only want more. We want to see Casi fight the system. Whether he wins or he loses, we want to get to see him fight the good fight. But then of course we get the worlds collapsing thing, the drug thing, the car thing. This is not strictly speaking a legal drama, it makes feints towards being one, but it isn’t. And despite all the weirdness, Palmer keeps the visuals relatively speaking, on a realistic level, a level where it isn’t easy to tell whether something is in Casi’s mind or in reality.

Throughout the film, no matter where the story is, Boyega proves just how great an actor he can be. We travel with Casi as he makes good decisions and bad and Boyega carries us along, always making us see Casi’s logic, his reasoning, even when it’s bad. We want Casi to win, to beat the system, even when we disagree with his choices.

It is impossible to walk away from “Naked Singularity” and not want to read the novel, not want to see what Palmer added, what he removed, what he changed overall. Is the book the same sort of indictment of the criminal justice system cloaked in a sci-fi shield (or maybe vice versa)? Does it connect the dots more than the movie?

The truth is that the movie could unquestionably use more connections (perhaps as could this review), but one does worry that making them would eliminate some of the magic. Even so, Palmer’s grungy sci-fi-in-the-real-world thing has power simply as it is presented and “Naked Singularity” is fascinating for the possibilities it opens up, for the roads it could go down, at least as much, if not more, than the ones it actually explores.

photo credit: ScreenMedia

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