By Richard Winters
My Rating: 6 out of 10
4-Word Review: People are the food.
This Review May Contain Spoilers.
The year is 2022 and the world is so overpopulated that people must sleep on stairwells and hallways and fight over getting their hands on the one and only food source called Soylent Green. Thorn (Charlton Heston) works as a police detective and assigned to a case involving the investigation of the murder of William Simonson (Joseph Cotten) who worked as a board member to Soylent industries. Thorn is convinced that there is more to the killing than simply an in-home robbery, but finds as he pursues the case that others are trying to prevent him from continuing on it, which makes him more determined to find the answers and connect-the-dots.
We’ll get the elephant out of the room right away by divulging that Soylent Green is made up of people who are killed to feed the rest of the population. Normally that would be considered a ‘spoiler’, but this film has become so well known for this ‘twist’ it that it seems almost absurd to avoid giving it away. If that ruins the film for you then I apologize, but the truth is I knew going into this how it was going to end, due to watching one of many parodies done on the movie particularly a SNL skit from years back involving Phil Hartman, and yet I came away enjoying it anyways. Mostly what I liked was the film’s neo-futuristic look that combines old buildings with a mod image and an opening sequence, which is the best part of the movie, used over the credits that was done by filmmaker Charles Braverman and shows visually through rapid-fire photographs how the world came into its bleak situation.
I was also really impressed with Heston’s performance. He is not an actor I’ve particularly enjoyed as I feel he is routinely too stiff and conveys his lines in an overly dramatic way that is quite stagey and even hammy and yet here he portrays a rough-around-the-edges man quite well and I consider this one of his best performances.
This also marks the final film of screen legend Edward G. Robinson who died only 20 days after production was completed. The scene where he and Heston eat fresh food, which is something the characters hadn’t done in a long time due to its scarcity, was completely improvised, but an excellent and memorable moment. I did feel though that there needed to be a backstory about why these two men, who had such contrasting differences in age, were living together and the fact that at one point both men say that they ‘love’ the other made me wonder if it was implied that they were gay.
The ending isn’t bad and I liked the way Thorn investigates the inner workings of the Soylent factory with the only noise coming from the plant’s machinery and no music, which makes it creepier. It is mentioned earlier though that this plant is ‘highly guarded’ and yet he is able to get into it rather easily and he walks through it for quite a bit before he is spotted by anyone and even then the men aren’t armed, which makes it seem like it isn’t too well guarded at all. Also, I didn’t get why Thorn, who is quite jaded for the most part, would get so noble and heroic once he found out the plant’s secret and feel the need to ‘warn’ others. The world they live in is quite bleak, so what is he ‘saving’ them from anyways as some may actually choose death over the squalor that they were stuck in.
The ultimate logic to this ‘clever’ twist ending doesn’t hold up too well either. For instance the idea that the company would just kill a few people here and there wouldn’t be enough to keep up with the demand and at one point does the overpopulation begin to go down? If so many are supposedly being killed to feed the others then the crowding should lessen, which again only reiterates the fact that the filmmakers hadn’t completely thought this thing through and if anything the film should’ve used Thorn’s discovery as springboard to a more complex and intricate plot instead simply relying on it as a ‘shock’ ending.
My Rating: 6 out of 10
Released: May 9, 1973
Runtime: 1Hour 37Minutes
Director: Richard Fleischer
Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video, YouTube