Directed by: Josef Rusnak | 100 minutes | action, drama, thriller, romance, science fiction | Actors: Craig Bierko, Armin Mueller-Stahl, Gretchen Mol, Vincent D’Onofrio, Dennis Haysbert, Steven Schub, Jeremy Roberts, Rif Hutton, Leon Rippy, Janet MacLachlan, Brad William Henke, Burt Bulos, Venessia Valentino, Howard S. Miller Tia Texada, Shiri Appleby, Bob Clendenin, Rachel Winfree, Meghan Ivey, Alison Lohman, Hadda Brooks, Ron Boussom, Ernie Lively, Toni Sawyer, Brooks Almy, Darryl Henriques, Suzanne Harrer, Lee Weaver, Geoffrey Rivas, Travis Tedford, Jeff Blumenkrantz, Andrew Alden, Johnny Crawford
Filmmaker Roland Emmerich, known for spectacular films such as “Independence Day” and “The Day After Tomorrow” knows how to surprise as producer of the virtual reality film “The Thirteenth Floor”. Just as colleague Michael Bay showed himself from a more philosophical, reflective side with “The Island”, Emmerich, with “The Thirteenth Floor” directed by Josef Rusnak, invites more than usual to use the gray matter. The film does have its flaws, and the bad luck just after better films on the same subject have been released (‘Dark City’, ‘The Matrix’, ‘eXistenZ’), but an interesting theme, an original setting, and film noir elements make the film worth watching.
The movie doesn’t exactly start off like a typical sci-fi movie, which makes it all the more surprising later on when it involves computer characters and virtual worlds. In the beginning, the viewer is introduced to the somewhat older man Hannon Fuller, a thoroughly engaging acting Armin Mueller-Stahl, in 1930s Los Angeles, presented in sepia tones. He begins with the statement, also expressed in The Matrix, that ignorance is delightful (“ignorance is bliss”), given the discovery he has made and which he wants to convey to his friend Douglas Hall by letter, through a bartender. He comes home, lies down next to his wife and then his eyes are zoomed in on, and the viewer enters a kind of wormhole, to be suddenly transported to another world. To the present day, in which Fuller simply turns out to be a user of a virtual program that he himself created.
After this first shock, however, the news is over, because this has been done several times before (and better) in films. Then the film must try to create (more) value through the detective story when Fuller is killed not much later. An agent (Dennis Haysbert, President David Palmer from series “24”) is on the heels of business partner Douglas Hall (Craig Bierko) because all the evidence points to him while he himself knows nothing and his mission to find out the truth by going to traveling the virtual world provides the film with much-needed speed and efficiency. In addition, the viewpoint in this virtual world story is initially reversed compared to “The Matrix”. Hall is confronted with his actions by the 1937 bartender (D’Onofrio), a pure computer creation, when he finds out the truth. It is interesting now to question the maker with whom the viewer has identified all along. What is his responsibility to these new forms of intelligence, which really seem to have a consciousness and (almost) a soul? These are questions that were touched upon in “A.I”, but of course also in classic narratives such as “Der Golem” and “Frankenstein”.
However, this also does not appear to be the whole truth, as the makers find it necessary to continue to extend the idea of virtual worlds in the vein of “eXistenZ”, so that it is no longer clear what reality and what virtual reality is. It’s a bit too much of a good thing, although it does shift the perspective in an interesting way and reveals an intriguing theme about a love between a digital creation and a creator. What are the conditions for loving a person, and what are the limits? Can you live with yourself or in a world knowing that everything is artificial? Can you experience love and genuine happiness when you know that it may only come from programming? But then, aren’t we all biologically programmed to some degree? These are issues that eventually turn out to be more interesting than the whole world-in-world-in-world play around or the murder mystery itself, but unfortunately they are touched on only briefly. It is also unfortunate that the protagonist Craig Bierko, normally a comedy actor, is a black hole of acting talent and emotions and that his co-star Gretchen Mol, although blessed with a beautiful classic beauty, knows little to convey. The energetic, provocative Vincent D’Onofrio and a distinguished Armin Mueller-Stahl luckily manage to provide some compensation n, and the femme fatale / film noir elements that the film contains also offer some added value. “The Thirteenth Floor” is a reasonable virtual reality film, although with potential that is not optimally utilized, but which certainly manages to hold the attention.