Movie Review: "Division 19" (2019)
In the parlance of today, there are few expressions that have a more mixed meaning (at least to my way of thinking") than “HOT MESS”. Here’s how one of my favorite apps, Urban Dictionary, defines the phrase:
Hot Mess: When ones thoughts or appearance are in a state of disarray but they maintain an undeniable attractiveness or beauty. Goddammit, that is perfect. I seriously don’t need to continue this review (but I will anyways).
Division 19 is set in the year 2039. Panopticon TV is the big hit, a prison reality program where you can sponsor a criminal and watch their every move. Hardin Jones (Jamie Draven) is the biggest incarcerated celebrity with over 2 billion followers! He’s an unwitting marketing machine. The cigarettes he smokes are the big thing…so are the jeans he wears. Hell, his showers are broadcast! His brother, Nash (Will Rothhaar; Killing Kennedy), is a hacker extraordinaire who is intent on freeing his brother and bringing the whole corrupt system of prison for profit to its knees. Caught up in all this are the head of network programming (?), a lady named Nielsen (Alison Doody; Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade), and the “leader of the free world”, Charles Lynden (Linus Roache, Vikings).
That’s as far as I can get with the plot.
So, earlier I used the phrase hot mess. That’s not necessarily a compliment, but it’s not necessarily an insult, either. Division 19 is a movie that has something to say; hell, it’s a movie that has many somethings to say. It’s a scathing commentary on the prevalence of social media and digital entertainment at large. It’s a vicious skewering of the prison for profit system that is a poison in the United States (with a brother on the inside, this hit home for me). It obliterates the sheer silliness of reality television…and don’t even get me started on that bullshit. I detest reality TV (except for Deadliest Catch).
I can see where writer/director S.A. Halewood is going with Division 19, and I wholeheartedly approve. The passion is evident. The aesthetic is stellar- the cinematography is borderline stunning, as are the smattering of digital FX. It’s a treat to watch. The cast is also a general pleasure. I mean, how can you complain about King Eckbert from friggin’ Vikings?! I rest my case. He’s outstanding here.
Unfortunately, the narrative is a mess. It all gets convoluted so quickly that you find yourself unsure of exactly what the hell is going on (but utterly sure that it’s critical stuff with a message). Very little time is spent on one focal point before spinning wildly to another. It’s simply hard to follow, even though you can’t look away.
This is where the frustration comes in for me. There are very few things that drive me crazier than wasted potential on a killer concept and message. You can’t help but think of the “what if” factor! Division 19 is the kind of dystopian science fiction that gives the sub-genre a bad name with those who (sorry to say) may lack the brain capacity to get it but also shows you flashes of how brilliant and singular the genre at large can be.
God, I wish this one had delivered on its potential. It’s the textbook definition of hot mess in all the positives and negatives. I’ll be damned if I don’t love that tagline, though: “Anonymity is Freedom”. That sums up the day and age we live in to perfection.