"Transcendence" Puts Together an All-star Cast for a Suspenseful Sci-Fi Feature

Photo Credit: Warner Bros.
April 23rd, 2014

A science-fiction film that tells the story of terminally ill researcher Dr. Will Caster, "Transcendence" is literally a tale of transcendence. Caster works in the artificial intelligence field and longs to invent a machine that has both collective intelligence and a sentient mind. He becomes a target of various factions of extremists who are opposed to his technologically advanced inventions. The extremists attempt to take out their targets by staging assassinations with radioactive bullets so that the target is likely to be poisoned even if the initial hit does not kill them.

Caster is not deterred by these attacks and instead is increasingly motivated to realize his goal. His illness is also a factor as he begins to consider how his technology could make him immortal. He begins to reach a point where he wants to transcend his being and become part of his inventions. At this point, his goal shifts from realizing his technological goals to wanting to possess ultimate power. As his drive for power picks up momentum, it becomes a question as to whether he can be stopped by those around him. To make a film that effectively explores this question, "Transcendence" relies on an exceptional cast.

"Transcendence" features a talented and all-star cast, including the ageless Johnny Depp, Morgan Freeman, Paul Bettany, Rebecca Hall and Cillian Murphy. Long-time cinematographer and first-time director Wally Pfister is at the helm. Johnny Depp is a big draw for this film, and he reportedly received a huge sum to take on the film's starring role as Caster. Depp does a masterful job of taking a sympathetic character who is terminally ill and seems to have noble aspirations as a researcher and turning him into a sinister character who lusts for power. There is no doubt that this is something that Depp excels at as he turns in a performance that is equal parts magnetic and nuanced.

Morgan Freeman plays Joseph Tagger, who is part of the factions that want to stop Caster and his transcendent technology. As an Academy Award winner, Freeman does an excellent job of creating a character that is not just an extremist but someone who is motivated by ethical principles. His character does not evolve quite as much as Depp's, but the portrayal is fully believable.

British actress Rebecca Hall plays the lead female character as Caster's wife and fellow researcher. She is probably most recognizable from her role in "Iron Man 3." Playing Evelyn Caster, Hall shows a similar evolution of character development as she starts out playing the supportive wife, but she eventually becomes concerned and finally appalled at what her husband intends to do and become. She is both intense and charming as she tries to deal with her husband's descent into darkness.

Irish actor Cillian Murphy takes the role of an FBI agent in "Transcendence." His role is not a leading one, but he is the straight man on the outside as he witnesses Caster's journey from noble academic to a power-obsessed outlaw. Murphy is probably best known for his role as Dr. Jonathan Crane in "The Dark Knight."

English actor Paul Bettany plays the role of Caster's best friend, Max Waters. Bettany turns in an earnest performance of a man who strives to support his best friend in his endeavors only to be horrified when he realizes what the man's goal is. He begins to plot feverishly on how to stop Caster despite how much he cares for him.

"Transcendence" works admirably well for not following too many clich├ęd plot devices. For example, Caster's wife and best friend work together to try and stop him, but they do not become romantically involved. Instead, the movie draws upon their mutual caring and concern for Caster as their motivation. Hall and Bettany create good chemistry as a platonic duo motivated by their goal to save and stop Caster.

"Transcendence" also benefits from some good performances from the supporting cast. The actors work as a harmonious unit thanks to solid screenwriting and a very solid debut effort from director Wally Pfister. It is clear that his experience as a cinematographer has allowed him the instincts to bring a science-fiction film such as "Transcendence" to life. The result is a film with real, nuanced characters in addition to the outstanding visuals that are usually expected from the genre.

"Transcendence" was initially marketed as a joint Chinese, British and American venture, but the Chinese company DMG Entertainment only helped produce and finance the film. It did not lend any Chinese elements or actors to the film. The film's scheduled release date is April 18, 2014.