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Picture Imperfect

Robin Williams messes with memories in The Final Cut.


Outside Tinseltown, not everyone may be aware of the Hollywood Forever cemetery, which specializes in memorializing lives via a process the franchise owners call "LifeStories." The century-old former Hollywood Memorial Park, retooled for the new millennium, presents carefully edited video montages of the lives of celebrities (from Rudolph Valentino to Dee Dee Ramone) as well as normal people, as part of its permanent archive among its many graves and mausoleums. Take this reality mere baby steps into science fiction, and you get The Final Cut, a satisfyingly eerie thriller concerned with the moral implications of recording entire lives and what those lives ultimately mean once they're edited down into sweet, bowdlerized, easily digested movies.

Our leading man is Robin Williams, in fine form as editor Alan Hakman, who assembles "rememory" movies of the recently deceased for their loved ones to screen. Meticulous and unerringly discreet -- he considers himself a "sin eater," a medieval idea he associates with his self-appointed mission to cleanse the souls of those he edits -- Hakman is considered the best in the burgeoning business. He works for its vanguard corporation, Zo´ Tech, which plants undetectable, organic memory chips into the children of status-driven elitists who can afford the controversial obsession.

This technological conceit could have engendered farce or horror, but young first-time feature director Omar Naïm delivers his smartly layered original screenplay as a stirring, feature-length Twilight Zone episode. We don't know what city we're in or even what decade, but we know it's chilly and strange here.

Hakman's cool supervisor (Mimi Kuzyk) and her punchy assistant (Thom Bishops) assign him a breakthrough project that involves viewing and cutting the life of a corrupt Zo´ Tech executive. The honcho's crass wife (Stephanie Romanov) and disturbed little daughter (Genevieve Buechner) offer their perceptions and insights to Hakman, forming some of the movie's most poignant scenes. The covetable memory disc also draws a former cutting colleague of Hakman's (Jim Caviezel) who's now bent on fouling the corporation's reputation.

In a fresh version of a shopworn Hollywood paradigm -- possibly the Hollywood paradigm -- Hakman is the quintessential Outsider Who Wants In. Williams gives him loads of subtle nuances, making him a logical evolution of Sy "the photo guy" from the equally impressive One Hour Photo. Like Sy, Hakman is a detached observer with no concept of his own identity, relying on images of others to inject his life with meaning. He is warmed here, gradually, by his girlfriend, Delila (Mira Sorvino) -- who runs a secondhand bookstore, one of the last bastions of civilized, delicate, pre-digital humanity. But even with her, he can't comprehend living without obsessing, cutting, processing.

Despite occasional bombast, Naïm's project turns the common filmmaking skill of editing into an intriguing metaphor for malleable modern identity: How much omission equals a higher truth? Socrates suggested that the unexamined life is not worth living. But what would he have thought of the exhaustively logged, 100-percent-viewable life? If he were around in Hakman's world, or even today in a virtual-reality boneyard, might he edit his notion to include the innate joy and release of unexamined living?

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