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‘District 9’ Movie Review

Sharlto Copley District 9 Sharlto Copley in ‘District 9.’

© TriStar Pictures

District 9 was made by a first time feature filmmaker, stars a guy no one outside of his family (and hometown) know much about, and was done for a budget of around $30 million. That combination of elements adds up to one of the best sci-fi films of the decade and one of the most entertaining movies of 2009. Writer/director Neill Blomkamp shows talent and imagination as he delivers one of the more intelligent, engaging, and original films to hit theaters in quite a while.  
Back in 2006 Neill Blomkamp had been tapped to direct a Halo movie for Universal Studios and 20th Century Fox, with Peter Jackson producing. Blomkamp had only directed commercials and short videos prior to being handed what looked like the opportunity of a lifetime, but before long 20th Century Fox put the Halo film on hold. That move, fortunately for moviegoers, didn’t signal the end of a Blomkamp and Jackson collaboration. Jackson asked Blomkamp if he had any other ideas for movies and Blomkamp suggested this story of aliens stranded in Johannesburg. And after watching District 9, you can’t help but wish Blomkamp had been allowed to move forward with Halo. What he does with $30 million on District 9 rivals any CG effects film Hollywood’s popped out in the last dozen years. And effects aside, District 9 shows real heart and soul, something sorely lacking in most 2009 big-budget summer releases. See Hollywood, this is what can be accomplished for a reasonable budget at the hands of a true storyteller.


The Story

27 years ago an alien spacecraft came to a halt over Johannesburg. Breaking into the ship, it was discovered the extraterrestrial creatures onboard were in horrible shape and had to be evacuated from their ship to a special fenced-in area (detainment camp/ghetto) referred to as District 9. Flash forward to the present and these ‘prawns’ (a derogatory nickname based on their crustacean-like appearance) are being forced to vacate their camp by the Multi-National United (MNU) corporation, the entity charged with overseeing alien affairs.  

District 9

A scene from ‘District 9.’
© TriStar Pictures

Civil unrest has made it no longer safe for the aliens to be in such close proximity to the citizens of Johannesburg. MNU agents – backed by heavily armed security personnel – go door to door informing the aliens they’re being moved, obtaining their signatures on eviction forms to prove they’ve been notified. This operation is led by Wikus van der Merwe (Sharlto Copley), a by-the-book young man just promoted to the job of overseeing the transfer of the prawns to District 10. Wikus has a loving wife who just happens to be his boss’ daughter, an optimistic attitude, and a thorough knowledge of the rules and regulations regarding all things alien. MNU has a vested interest in keeping the aliens close; they want the powerful weapons the creatures brought with them. But thus far they haven’t been able to get a weapon to fire when it’s held by a human (they’re configured to activate only when in contact with an alien). Through documentary-style footage, we hear Wikus’ friends and co-workers talking about the man, and we watch as Wikus conducts his campaign of notifying the aliens they’re to be relocated. He’s proud as punch to uncover weapons stashes, and equally thrilled to show off how to abort alien babies.

But in one shack, Wikus makes a discovery that changes his life forever. Without disclosing any spoilers (the less you know about District 9 going in, the more you’ll enjoy the film), suffice it to say Wikus, a corporate yes-man who toed the party line and committed atrocities against these creatures, learns what it’s like to be on the receiving end of his company’s mistreatment of aliens.  

The Acting

Sharlto Copley does a positively amazing job portraying this twitchy, even unlikable, mid-level manager. Copley’s performance is riveting, his commitment to his character’s strange arc is nothing less than award-worthy. Wikus goes through an emotional and physical transformation and Copley conveys every change completely convincingly. And you would never know watching the film that Copley was most often acting opposite absolutely nothing. Never once does he waver from making this District 9 world feel like reality.  

The Bottom Line

Blomkamp chose to shoot much of the film documentary-style, using handheld cameras and telling the story from the filmmaker’s point of view. Many scenes have a news scroll on the bottom portion, adding to the film’s gritty realism. Blomkamp’s visual style makes you believe this aggression between humans and unwanted alien visitors is going down right here, right now.  

district 9

A ‘District 9’ alien
© TriStar Pictures

Blomkamp shot the film in his native South Africa and of course it’s a commentary on apartheid and the oppression of South Africans under that system. You could substitute any oppressed people for the aliens, but this is in no way a preachy, pushy film. It has many layers, but you can accept it just as an entertaining sci-fi film and be fine with that. District 9 contains some of the most incredible CG creatures ever integrated into a film. These aliens speak using a series of groans and clicks, and look like huge ambulatory shrimp, yet Blomkamp manages to infuse them with individual personalities. The lead prawn, Christopher Johnson, is even more relatable and humane than Wikus.

District 9 doesn’t skimp on the action, but it also doesn’t sacrifice character development. Masterfully done and totally engaging, District 9 is the perfect finishing touch to the summer action movie season.


District 9 was directed by Neill Blomkamp and is rated R for bloody violence and pervasive language.

Theatrical Release: August 14, 2009



August 14, 2009 - Posted by | 1

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