review by Gregory Avery, 13 July 2001

In A.I., Haley Joel Osment plays David, who first appears with a trusting, open, somewhat unnerving quality about him. He doesn't seem menacing, but as if something about him was not completely formed yet, and it's this uncertainty that throws the two people into whose home David enters.

David is an advanced robot, a prototype, bestowed upon a youngish couple, the Swintons, Monica (Frances O'Connor) and Henry (Sam Robards), whose own son lies in a state of unconsciousness. David has the ability to become familially bonded with the Swintons once a particular sequence of words is spoken to him. ("Don't imprint until you're entirely sure," Henry warns Monica, who, as the wife and mother of the family, is left with this responsibility.) Gradually, David begins to lose more and more of the sculpted, artificial quality about him, and takes on more the look of something living. The film gradually gets us to start thinking about whether any animate creature -- biological or manufactured -- has the right to exist.

Then, the Swintons' own son, Martin (Jake Thomas), awakens and is brought home, and as he regains his health he begins to pull the type of malicious (but normal) mischief that is meant to land David in trouble. Martin is busily trying to make David's place in the home untenable, and David cannot fathom why. It is as if the cuckoo who displaces a chick from the nest were itself trying to be pushed out, to land on the ground far, far below, by one of the chicks already there.

Steven Spielberg directed and wrote the screenplay for A.I. from a screen treatment Ian Watson wrote, for the late director Stanley Kubrick, based on the short story Super-Toys Last All Summer Long by the science-fiction author Brian Aldiss. It is the kind of movie that I don't want to talk too much about, because most of the enjoyment I had from it came from seeing what was going to happen next. I can say that David goes on an odyssey much similar to and inspired by the story of Pinocchio, which had been told to him earlier by Monica, and that he meets up with a fox-like character (Brendan Gleeson, in a wide-brimmed hat, and who rides lord-fully over the nighttime landscape in a device shaped like the moon); that he is accompanied by two companions, one an automated teddy bear ( la one of Aldiss' "Super-Toys") that has a right, properly burly-bear quality to him, the other a robot escort, Gigolo Joe (Jude Law, whose spiky, metallic looks finally serve him best, here), who sticks with David because of his own directive to be of assistance to anyone in need; and that there is a search for a maternal, angelic Blue Fairy, who seems to be always further on and whom David seeks to make a singular, empirical request of.

There will be much talk, nitpicking, and general hot-air-blowing over what in A.I. has borrowed from where and from whom and to what purpose, so on and so forth. Big deal. One thing that cannot be disputed is the performance given in the film by Haley Joel Osment, who retains a certain amount of David's preternatural quality, which, it turns out, is not simply a product of his character being an oddity of science. That quality turns out to be the growing manifestation of one of the most intense depictions of a yearning to belong and to receive a pure emotional fulfillment that has been seen in any film in recent memory. This is not an easy role for a young actor, and the kid is not repeating himself, here. The picture itself also makes a fantastic, audacious, ambitious jump in its final act -- one that makes David's persistence all the more heartrending (and Haley Joel Osment's performance all the more heartrending) -- but there is a gentle, calming resolution, beautifully rendered, and the realization that the film has become more than a story about simple wish-fulfillment and asking for the impossible. David's refusal to give up becomes less about wishing, and more about faith, which is quite another, more dramatically meaningful and moving thing altogether.

Directed by:
Steven Spielberg

Haley Joel Osment
Jude Law
Frances O'Connor
Sam Robards
 Brendan Gleeson
William Hurt

Written by:
Steven Spielberg
Ian Watson

PG-13 - Parents
Strongly Cautioned
Some material ma
be inappropriate for
children under 13




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