On the surface, The Discovery sounds like a homerun.
The story of a world in which the afterlife has been scientifically verified immediately causes the sci-if nerd inside of me to begin listening. From the film’s outset, the emotional weight it is shooting for is well communicated. Robert Redford does a good job allowing you to settle in to what seems to be a dreary, moody film. That may sound distasteful, but that wasn’t my initial response. I would liken the tonal elements of the film to Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, which also centers around a pretty similar romantic, psychological, and dry thematic concept as well. Another similarity to Charlie Kaufman and Michel Gondry’s masterpiece was the films choice of lead character; a comedian playing a depressed male. Jason Segel plays Will, a scientist in the field of neurology, who is seeking to deal with his own past along with the world and people he finds around him. Segel gives a worthy effort here playing against type but unfortunately lays on the depressed contemplative far too heavy. It’s not difficult to see the potential for Segel to stretch his wings out of the world of comedy, a genre he tends to be exceptional at, but this just wasn’t the vehicle for him.
What seems most interesting about The Discovery to me is that its brightest moment is also its biggest downfall. Without spoiling anything, the final third of the film plays like an excellent sci-fi mystery, which then turns psychologically challenging to a large degree, asking perhaps too much of the audience to tie everything together. This part of the film was actually the most engaging for me, but left me feeling less like I just saw an Ex Machina or Eternal Sunshine and more like I just saw the end of Season 1 of a decent TV show. The build up simply didn’t deliver for me.
This film did have quite a bit in its favor even if the lead character and overall trajection and tone of the story were less than stellar. The score to the film was really nice as was several of the visual sequences in the film. I am always a big fan of sci-fi films that do not rely heavily on special effects. This film has texture and realism to it that the aforementioned films also have.
In the end, The Discovery is mostly frustrating because it promises much and delivers…..a bit. Far from a homerun, it feels more like pointing to the outfield and then taking a bunt. Watching a feature film for the first time on Netflix is already incredibly distasteful (Amazon has the correct process down in my opinion) but I am actually glad that this one did not cost me $10 in the theatre.