Like a beautifully wrapped gift box with nothing inside, Renaissance is a big letdown.

French director Christian Volckman breaks new ground with his hyper-stylized black-and-white animation, employing motion-capture technology to render striking images. But his barely coherent sci-fi noir storyline — scripted by five writers, no less — is slow-moving and unoriginal, lifting the plots and themes of such films as Blade Runner, Minority Report and Ghost in the Shell.

In 2054 Paris, world-weary detective Barthélémy Karas (Daniel Craig) teams up with a beautiful young woman named Bislane (Catherine McCormack) to find her kidnapped sister, a genetic research scientist. Together, the two uncover a dark conspiracy that involves identity theft, DNA tampering and a monolithic corporation with a shadowy agenda. There are creepy doctors (Ian Holm), sinister corporate executives (Jonathan Pryce) and lots of expendable bad guys. Volckman does a solid job of establishing a looming sense of anxiety, but bad dialogue, some lifeless voice work and poorly paced action scenes turn Renaissance into a trite, muddled mess.

It's shame because, visually, the film is a masterful evocation of comic book visuals. Blending the look and style of Sin City and A Scanner Darkly, Volckman's work is highly expressionistic. Avoiding any shades of gray, Renaissance uses high-contrast lighting to make the visuals pop, giving two-dimensional settings a dazzling sense of depth and perspective. The merger of old-world cityscapes with high-tech accoutrements like holograms and glass-floored streets allows for some stunning imagery. All the noir signatures are on full display — swirling smoke, endless rain, reflective glass — creating a world of moral decay and dystopian desperation.

Unfortunately, these very same effects end up flattening out the characters' facial expressions — which is exactly what's wrong with Volckman's film. Though he fully understands the mise-en-scène of noir, he shows little comprehension of the genre's sense of drama or humanity. Despite a cast of accomplished actors, there's no energy, wit or personality to any of the characters. Instead of human connection, we get deadpan cynicism, leaving the viewer unmoved and unconvinced.

Renaissance breaks new ground by merging the look and feel of graphic novels, anime and video games with live action performances. However, all the hard-boiled eye-candy in the world can't compensate for characters we don't care about and a plot we can hardly understand.


Showing at the Maple Art Theatre (4135 W. Maple Rd., Bloomfield Hills; 248-263-2111).

Jeff Meyers writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].

Scroll to read more Arts articles


Join Detroit Metro Times Newsletters

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.