Swan Song Review : Apple TV drama is one of 2021’s best

Writer/director Benjamin Cleary crafts a challenging experience from a thematic experience

Apple TV

What would you do to make sure your family is taken care of if something happens to you? This is a challenging thought because what can you really do? You can get a life insurance policy to make sure that they have financial stability. But there will be so much trauma from the loss and missing what you bring to their lives. It is impossible to leave them in the same place emotionally and physically if you were to pass away. But what if you could? Would you? That is the moral dilemma right at the center of Apple TV+’s new science fiction film, Swan Song.

Writer/director Benjamin Cleary crafts a challenging experience from a thematic experience but what is this story about? Cameron is a man who finds out the worst…he is dying. Luckily there is a new technology that allows you to create a perfect (maybe perfect) copy of yourself. They can replace you in life and your family will never have to know something terrible happened to you. Cameron meets this doctor who can do the procedure. What follows is a moral journey that Cameron must go on. Can this doctor convince him? Can connecting with someone else in the same boat help come to grips with reality? Cleary weaves a moving narrative that takes on each of these questions. The audience is treated to flashbacks of Cameron’s life which is significant from an emotional standpoint, but these scenes make the narrative a bit choppy. By the end of the film, the themes are fully fleshed out and the experience is quite the emotional one.

What about the characters? Do we feel for Cameron? What is needed for this story to work is a relatable and likeable protagonist. If we do not care about them then their journey lacks the needed impact. We also must care about his family. Luckily, the romance and connections portrayed between Cameron and his wife, Poppy, works so well. They are the emotional core of the film, and they certainly deliver. Kate is the other person that Cameron connects with who is also going through the same suffering. She brings some humor and charm to the film that is much appreciated (this is quite the heavy film). Everyone on the medical side of things in the film are exposition machines (Glenn Close and Adam Beach cannot even bring much to those characters). Then you have Jack…Cameron’s clone. What is so interesting about this film is the interactions between Cameron and Jack. These scenes challenge the audience thematically and emotionally as well. One of the strongest scenes in the whole film is a confrontation between them.

But what makes this scene so great? The acting. Mahershala Ali gives one of the strongest performances I have seen all year. Not only is he great as Cameron but he gets to flex with a dual performance as well. The emotion packed into their confrontation is poignant and raw. Ali is explosive at times and others he is vulnerable. Naomie Harris is great as Poppy as well giving her layers of emotion. Awkwafina is a fun time, and her sense of humor makes Kate what she needs to be. Close and Beach are both solid even if the script does not do them too many favors. But what is true is that this is certainly Ali’s film to anchor and steal.

With plenty of thematic depth, does Swan Song make for a must-see film during the waning months of 2021? Cleary’s film is beautifully shot and manages its modest effects so effortlessly. The emotional stakes are moving and poignant. The film boasts one of the year’s strongest performances. It is easy to get past the heavy exposition and confusing timeline to love this film.

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