Dark Matter (2008)


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Critic Consensus: The creaky plotting, inscrutable characters, and unconvincing ending make it difficult for audiences to connect with Dark Matter.

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Inspired by actual events, director Chen Shi-Zheng's socially conscious psychological drama follows the journey of an ambitious Chinese scientist working towards his Ph.D. in America, only to be marginalized to the extent that he ultimately loses his way. All Liu Xing (Liu Ye) ever wanted was to study the origins of the universe at a Western university. Upon arriving at the school, Liu immediately rents a modest apartment with a few other Chinese students and begins flirting with the pretty American who works at the local coffee shop. Personally welcomed into Department Head Jacob Reiser's (Aidan Quinn) select cosmology group, Liu remains dedicated to his studies and optimistic about the future. Things continue to look up as Liu becomes close with wealthy university patron Johanna Silver (Meryl Streep) after the two become acquainted at an orientation for foreigners sponsored by a local church. Eventually, Liu becomes Reiser's protégé, and makes a sizable impression at a prestigious conference attended by the pair. But attitudes start to shift when Liu's studies in dark matter come into direct conflict with his mentor's prominent theories and well-established studies. His excitement about a potential breakthrough causes him to ignore repeated warnings that he must pay his dues, and Liu's findings are eventually eclipsed by that of more studious fellow student Laurence. Determined to have his studies published, Liu goes behind Reiser's back, but he ultimately becomes the target of ire rather than accolades, with Johanna's naïve encouragement prompting him along a dangerous collision course. While Liu remains enamored with the concept of the American dream and optimistic about American science being a free market of ideas, he begins to grow dejected after his dissertation is rejected, the girl at the coffee shop blows him off, and his roommates all find lucrative jobs. Essentially left behind at the university, Liu rejects Johanna's offer for help and vows not to return home to disappointed parents. Now, as he coasts on the fumes of his unrealized dreams, the dishonored student prepares to lash out with one final act of devastating annihilation. ~ Jason Buchanan, Rovi

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Cast

Meryl Streep
as Joanna Silver
Ye Liu
as Liu Xing
Tsao Lei
as Zhang Ming
Shan Jing
as Wang Ying
He Yu
as Old Wu
Li Bo Lin
as Little Square
Boris McGiver
as Reverend Hollings
Bill Irwin
as Hal Silver
Zhang Hui
as Monkey King
Joe Grifasi
as Professor Colby
Rob Campbell
as Gary Small
Jodi Russell
as Claire Reiser
Erick Avari
as Professor Gazda
Lloyd Suh
as Laurence Fang
Yi Qian
as Cindy Feng
Hong Ying
as Laundry Worker
Zeng Hui
as Neighbor Girl
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Critic Reviews for Dark Matter

All Critics (40) | Top Critics (19)

Begins with a shot of Meryl Streep practicing tai chi, and therein lies a precise encapsulation of the film's attitude toward the intersection of Eastern and Western cultures

Aug 8, 2009 | Full Review…

The film does a fine job of displaying the contrasts between these tense, formalized Chinese students and the faux populist American academics.

Oct 18, 2008 | Rating: 3/4 | Full Review…

There is nothing wrong with taking inspiration from actual events, but it's a tricky business, and Dark Matter does no one right by sticking to the shocking conclusion.

May 2, 2008 | Rating: 1/4 | Full Review…

It is easy to see the film as two movies crammed together, neither of them being very good.

Apr 18, 2008 | Rating: 2/5 | Full Review…

Liu Ye is too inexpressive for his role's demands, and the movie doesn't build to his downfall: It just zaps itself there.

Apr 16, 2008 | Rating: C- | Full Review…

There's little in Billy Shebar's script, the rambling direction by theater and opera helmer Chen Shi-Zheng - or Liu Ye's impassive performance as the student.

Apr 11, 2008 | Rating: 2/4 | Full Review…

Audience Reviews for Dark Matter

½

A fairly watchable movie that tells the tragic story (that's somewhat based on true events) of an aspiring Chinese student who resorts to a violent shootout after his dreams are blocked by school/campus politics.

familiar stranger
familiar stranger

Super Reviewer

½

Amateurishly directed with a hilariously shitty final quarter, but not without some scattered merits. More later

Drew Smith
Drew Smith

Super Reviewer

"The universe is made mostly of dark matter and dark energy, and we don't know what either of them is" - Saul Perlmutter Inspired by actual events, director Chen Shi-Zheng's socially conscious psychological drama follows the journey of an ambitious Chinese scientist working towards his Ph.D. in America, only to be marginalized to the extent that he ultimately loses his way. All Liu Xing (Liu Ye) ever wanted was to study the origins of the universe at a Western university. Upon arriving at the school, Liu immediately rents a modest apartment with a few other Chinese students and begins flirting with the pretty American who works at the local coffee shop. Personally welcomed into Department Head Jacob Reiser's (Aidan Quinn) select cosmology group, Liu remains dedicated to his studies and optimistic about the future. Things continue to look up as Liu becomes close with wealthy university patron Johanna Silver (Meryl Streep) after the two become acquainted at an orientation for foreigners sponsored by a local church. Eventually, Liu becomes Reiser's protégé, and makes a sizable impression at a prestigious conference attended by the pair. But attitudes start to shift when Liu's studies in dark matter come into direct conflict with his mentor's prominent theories and well-established studies. His excitement about a potential breakthrough causes him to ignore repeated warnings that he must pay his dues, and Liu's findings are eventually eclipsed by that of more studious fellow student Laurence. Determined to have his studies published, Liu goes behind Reiser's back, but he ultimately becomes the target of ire rather than accolades, with Johanna's naïve encouragement prompting him along a dangerous collision course. While Liu remains enamored with the concept of the American dream and optimistic about American science being a free market of ideas, he begins to grow dejected after his dissertation is rejected, the girl at the coffee shop blows him off, and his roommates all find lucrative jobs. Essentially left behind at the university, Liu rejects Johanna's offer for help and vows not to return home to disappointed parents. Now, as he coasts on the fumes of his unrealized dreams, the dishonored student prepares to lash out with one final act of devastating annihilation. A fairly good film with a promising plot and class A actors but what really brought this film down I think is the way the director handled his cluttered vision of the premise and it came out too messy for me. The special effects were really unnecessary, this is an indie art house flick so its alright if you don't use special effects if its not really called to the occasion. And the repetitive use of overly sentimental shots of lead character Liu Xing was a bit annoying, I mean I already get the scene was emotional, I don't need to stare in the face of a mopey chinese guy for a long period of time contemplating his streaks of bad luck. On the other hand though, the actors in the film were really exceptional. Lead Liu Ye, who is apparently a big shot actor in China marks his American debut with this film. The material given maybe a bit too cluttered but he did his best with it and came out really good. I can't really say his debut went out with a bang but he's almost there. Meryl Streep of course, always the pro. You can't go wrong with the lady. Overall, I'd say the acting was exceptional and the plot is really promising but the material is just too cluttered and messy for my style. Should have left the unnecessary special effects in the cutting room floor. 3/5

Lorenzo von Matterhorn
Lorenzo von Matterhorn

Super Reviewer

[font=Garamond][size=3]"Dark Matter" is an incredibly superficial film that plays like a TV movie, and not a particularly good one. At times it even feels like an afterschool special. How in the world did [b]Meryl Streep[/b] ever get associated with this amateurish project? And topnotch theater actors like [b]Bill Irwin[/b] and [b]Blair Brown[/b] to boot! Mystifying.[/size][/font] [font=Garamond][size=3][img]http://www.filmmakermagazine.com/winter2007/images/features/sundance_risk/DarkMatter.jpg[/img][/size][/font] [font=Garamond][size=3]The subject matter is interesting. A brilliant young astrophysicist comes to the United States from China to study for his doctorate with a renowned scholar. His theories about dark matter are on the cutting edge, but they threaten to undermine the long-held positions of the famous professor under whom he is studying. The two begin to battle, eventually in a violent way. [/size][/font] [font=Garamond][size=3]This could have been an exciting exploration of the politics of ideas and the difficulties that true originators face in life. The topic of students from the developing world being exploited in Western universities could also have been explored meaningfully. These are certainly uncharted waters thematically speaking.[/size][/font] [img]http://blogs.sltrib.com/sundance/uploaded_images/Dark-742435.jpg[/img] [font=Garamond][size=3]But instead of being a pioneering work of art, "Dark Matter" becomes a sappy melodrama operating at the artistic level of the 1980s TV series "Full House." Maybe screenwriter [b]Billy Shebar[/b] and director [b]Shi-Zheng Chen[/b] (in his directorial debut) got coached by Mary-Kate Olsen during the creative process. They certainly seem to have wanted to pitch their film to "Full House" fans. It's quite an achievement to take a story about astrophysics and dumb it down so far that you produce something on the order of "Full House." That's a vertiginous plummet.[/size][/font] [font=Garamond][size=3]But I suppose we shouldn't be too surprised. Films about great artists are usually atrociously stupid and shallow, so why shouldn't great scientists get the same treatment? Who could possibly think that fans of "Full House" would ever want to see a film about a great artist or scientist? Yet for some reason filmmakers who take on lofty subject matter keep pitching to the least common denominator. That's as mystifying to me as dark matter itself.[/size][/font] [font=Garamond][size=3][img]http://www.meryl-streep.de/img/temp/update20061222-02.jpg[/img][/size][/font] [font=Garamond][size=3]For the record, Meryl Streep's character is a rich sinophile who helps the university with its Chinese-student program. She serves as a kind of den mother, taking the students on field trips and making them feel welcome in the US. She b[/size][/font][font=Garamond][size=3]ecomes aware of the struggle between the professor (played by [b]Aidan Quinn[/b]) and his star student ([b]Liu Ye[/b]), but she doesn't get involved. The character adds very little to the story. Incidentally, in most of her scenes Streep has an excess of pancake make-up on her face, almost kabuki-like. It's never explained. If I listed all the ridiculous, strange things about this film, I'd be writing all night.[/size][/font] [font=Garamond][size=3]Bill Irwin plays the woman's husband. He has very little to do. I'm at a loss to explain why a Tony-winning actor would accept a two-scene supporting performance in a dumb movie. I guess money's tight. Or maybe he jumped at the chance to have a couple scenes with Meryl Streep. That's understandable. I would too.[/size][/font] [font=Garamond][size=3]Blair Brown shows up as the secretary to the professor. That was very strange to see. This [/size][/font][font=Garamond][size=3]is a very long way down for Ms. Brown from starring in the masterpiece "Copenhagen" on Broadway a few years ago. Another vertiginous plummet.[/size][/font]

William Dunmyer
William Dunmyer

Super Reviewer

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