If Sharlton Copley is not up for an Oscar for best actor this year I will be very disappointed. Eric Bana deserved on for his jocular killer in Chopper, Russel Crowe deserved on for his steeley eyed racist in Romper Stomper and Edward Norton deserved on for his Nazi-sympathizing lead in American History X.
As “Wickers” (that’s how I heard it – it’s Wikus) Sharlton plays the kind of casual racist who seldom gets to be front and center; a man so craven and cowardly that his old bold act is to proclaim that he loves his wife and that he thinks she is an angel. He casually refers to the Aliens as “The Prawn” in much the same way a southern preacher might put forth “The Negro” circa 1844. Wickers is weak, obsequious and in love with the limited authority being the boss’ son in law gives him. He doesn’t appear to seek the lime-light, save for the appreciation of his superiors and as a career bureaucrat he would put Hermes Conrad to shame, going so far as to point out the contraband around him even as he is being helped by the very people he casually dismisses as lower than him.
It is this performance, a real, vivid and at times sympathetic performance around which District 9 is drawn. The sweaty, craven center of an amazing film tootsie-pop. He cows to criminals and is easily frightened by the (typical) bald headed psychopath [security officer] who [we learn later] is in it for the killing. The effects are great, the Aliens alive and interesting and the action sequences are legitimate action sequences, especially the very first bit of surprise action, which I will endeavour not to spoil.
There are two scenes that shine, the first is when Wikus is alone and dealing with his lot in life, the desperation, the need to hide his troubles from his friends and family; the second is the “twist” moment when Wikus is faced with the hard realities of his life and his place in the world. The entire theatre held their collective breath and my wife was stricken by it, the performance was that powerful, his pleading, his praying his wishes for it to be taken from him. Breathtakingly real and authentic.
I would hazard to rate this the greatest movie of 2009; greater than any single movie that has arrived this year. Please, do not pass on a chance to visit a theater and see this movie