Director: Robert Rodriguez
Cast: Ben Affleck, Alice Braga, JD Pardo, William Fichtner, Jackie Earle Haley, Dayo Okeniyi
Runtime: 1 hr 33 mins
Rating: NC16 (Some Violence)
Released By: Encore Films
Opening Day: 11 May 2023
Synopsis: Determined to find his missing daughter, detective Danny Rourke (Ben Affleck) instead finds himself spiralling down a rabbit hole while investigating a series of reality-bending bank robberies where he will ultimately call into question his most basic assumptions about everything and everyone in his world. Aided by Diana Cruz (Alice Braga), a gifted psychic, Rourke simultaneously pursues and is pursued by a lethal specter - the one man he believes holds the key to finding the missing girl - only to discover more than he ever bargained for.
It has never been easy to put a finger on Robert Rodriguez. From his very first filmmaking debut ‘El Mariachi’ and his subsequent ‘Mexico Trilogy’, to the ‘Spy Kids’ franchise, and to the acclaimed neo-noir ‘Sin City’ series, Rodriguez has proven himself as a one-man-band (who often pulls multiple duties on one film, including directing, writing, producing, editing and shooting) with a renegade spirit. That same verve is on full display here in ‘Hypnotic’, which Rodriguez has said he has been developing for close to two decades now.
In more ways than one, ‘Hypnotic’ is perhaps Rodriguez’s most ambitious movie to date. While it starts off as a standard-issue detective thriller, this twisty science-fiction soon establishes itself as being much more. The elaborate set-up begins with Austin police detective Donald Rourke (Ben Affleck) sitting in a therapist’s office ruminating about the disappearance of his 7-year-old daughter Minnie in the park one day; though the kidnapper was apprehended, he is found to be mentally incapacitated and claims to have no memory of the incident.
After telling his therapist that work is the only thing keeping him afloat, Rourke is cleared to join his partner Nicks (JD Pardo) on a stakeout of the Bank of Austin, which an anonymous tip had claimed would be robbed later that day. There, Rourke and his team notice a man (William Fitchner) sitting on a bench next to a woman and making an idle comment about it being hot today; the next thing you know, the woman is stripping off her clothes and walking into traffic. The same man then speaks to two guards of an armoured vehicle parked outside the bank, before proceeding inside to approach one of the tellers. Said teller then goes to the vault, retrieves a safe deposit box, and then hops into the armoured vehicle to try to get away with the two guards.
Even more intriguingly, before the teller had managed to get her hands on the safe deposit box, Rourke had beaten her to it, and had found within the box a polaroid of his own daughter, with an enigmatic message scrawled underneath. The anonymous tip is traced to a psychic turned tarot card reader Diana Cruz (Alice Braga), whom Rourke ends up going on the run with after both of them find themselves targeted by the aforementioned mysterious villain. Without giving away too much, let’s just say that Diana will reveal herself to be a hypnotic, who not only possess the power to alter a person’s reality but also compel them to do things against their own wishes.
That is but the first act of ‘Hypnotic’, which as you may imagine, has more than a couple more ‘fake-outs’ and revelations up its sleeve. Indeed, you’ll do well to let the narrative unfurl by itself, unveiling how Diana and Fitchner’s Lev Dellrayne are related, what Dellrayne is ultimately after (it should not be hard to guess that it has something to do with Rourke’s missing daughter), and how Rourke is connected to all of it. Though some have criticized the movie for being difficult to follow, we in fact found it a surprisingly fast-paced and ruthlessly efficient exercise that never gets boring or loses its audience along the way.
The credit for that goes to Rodriguez, whose pulpy filmmaking style serves the material well. While similarities have been drawn with Christopher Nolan’s ‘Inception’, ‘Hypnotic’ is its own creature in regards to reality-bending intrigue, especially after the midway twist that changes your entire perspective on what is really happening, right down to the very opening scene. It doesn’t hurt that Rodriguez knows his way or two around the action, and has assembled a capable ensemble to carry the film, including Affleck’s brooding leading-man turn, Braga’s empathetic supporting act cum resident exposition bank, and Fitchner’s almost wordless but absolutely terrifying villainous role.
So by his standards, ‘Hypnotic’ is a well-accomplished B-movie effort that boasts all the trademarks of a Rodriguez production. Is it slightly rough around the edges? Sure. Does it look like it was filmed in and around his Austin hometown and on his backlot? Yes, because it was. And that is part of the grungy charm of this latest Rodriguez effort, which again sees him direct, write, edit and shoot the movie, while enlisting his son Rebel to do the music. It’s more than a reasonably diverting time to spend one and a half hours, and as long as you’re a Rodriguez fan, you’ll find ‘Hypnotic’ as entertainingly flawed as some of his most enjoyable works.
(If you know Robert Rodriguez, you'll find this science-fiction thriller a pulpy genre exercise befitting his filmmaking verve)
Review by Gabriel Chong