The talky, lo-fi science-fiction drama “Rubikon” feels like a teleplay that was produced on a slightly bigger budget. Fans of this type of speculative fiction will probably like “Rubikon” even more knowing that it’s set primarily in one location (an international, corporate-owned space station) and mostly concerns three astronauts, all of whom mistrust each other.
The year is 2056 and oxygen-producing algae cultures hold the key to humanity’s survival. Our three protagonists—Hannah (Julia Franz Richter), Gavin (George Blagden), and Dimitri (Mark Ivanir)—happen to possess that algae, so they must now decide who lives and who dies from the relative safety of their cramped space station, the Rubikon.
Rubikon” gives sci-fi fans a safe, B-movie-friendly view of an interpersonal drama that breaks out in the middle of a “Star Trek”-inspired and sometimes “The Twilight Zone”-esque three-hander about the end of civilization. This modestly-scaled science-fiction movie now seems quaint; it also tends to be more compelling for its dialogue’s pulpy implications than whatever is actually on-screen. “Rubikon” is a reassuring movie about disquieting times.
Writer/director Leni Lauritsch and co-writer Jessica Lind immediately establish what kind of story they’re telling when they introduce Hannah and Gavin to the Rubikon’s crew members, particularly sullen Dimitri and his touchy son Danilo (Konstantin Frolov). Hannah and Gavin’s presence immediately puts the Russians on edge, because they represent the Nibra Corporation, the space station’s absentee patrons. You might then assume the worst about Hannah and Gavin since, in “Rubikon,” the future is determined by corporations (according to an introductory text crawl). But these two characters are ostensibly not the same kind of privileged: Hannah’s a no-nonsense and sometimes chilly hired hand, with her own ambitions and abandonment issues, and Gavin’s a pouty chemist from a rich, powerful family. That may seem like a distinction without a difference, but read on anyway.
Hannah and Gavin are not really bad people, but Dimitri and Danilo must still learn to trust them before the plot of “Rubikon” can really begin. Until then, Hannah and Gavin talk their way into Rubikon’s postage-stamp-sized microcosm. They either comply or push past Dimitri and his son’s questions, many of which boil down to: whose interests are you serving and why are you really here? Some sudsy and well-executed space drama ensues—an escape pod, a suicide attempt, a drunken card game—and soon pulls everybody together. Until they receive a distress signal from Earth, which forces them to decide what to do about the ship’s algae cultures.
Nobody fully trusts each other in “Rubikon” since they’re all products of environments that either no longer exist, or don’t really matter outside the Rubikon. Hannah and her crew-mates still talk a lot about what really motivates them, as well as how much they know, what they mean to each other, etc. And as they talk, it becomes clear that “Rubikon” only contains exactly what its characters need to articulate their main concerns. A handful of actors in diver-tight space-suits talk at or past each other and struggle with decisions that were always well above their characters’ salaries.
To the impatient, “Rubikon” might seem to be light on plot. For everyone else, the movie is nothing but its plot since Hannah and her peers’ only serve to test and maybe confirm the movie’s main thesis: we are not all the same, even if some of us enjoy more privilege than others, but we are all ultimately in the same cosmic boat. That kind of pseudo-moderate philosophy is hard to accept, especially in a drama where the only things we need to know about Hannah and Gavin is how they interact with each other in scenes that hint at a budding relationship.
“Rubikon” presents itself as a B-movie morality play, one that doesn’t test your understanding of its characters beyond how they relate to the devastated and largely implied world outside the Rubikon. But the confining limits of that kind of story does sometimes facilitate good canned drama, as in any scene where Dimitri and Hannah talk about the health or necessity of, uh, the ship’s algae cultures.
By contrast, Gavin and Hannah’s conversations are often frustrating since he usually challenges her to accept that any given judgment call is more complicated than it seems. He’s not wrong, but he’s also not pointing Hannah (or us) towards anything more complicated than whatever’s already neatly suggested through his dialogue. “Rubikon” never offers viewers deep answers to its bigger questions, but it does pose enough questions to keep things moving while you watch.
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