Star to Watch
By R. Kurt Osenlund, The Good Life film critic
"District 9," one of the few 2009 titles to receive a five-star rating from yours truly, has only one famous name attached to it: Peter Jackson, who produced the sci-fi stunner after his adaptation of the video game "Halo" was shelved by studio backers Fox and Universal. The other two earthlings with key roles in the project are unknowns: writer/director Neill Blomkamp and lead star Sharlto Copley, who all but carries the film on his increasingly scaly back.
A lifelong friend of Blomkamp's, Copley hails from South Africa, the sun-drenched locale in which "District 9" takes place. His background includes the direction of short films and music videos, talent agency management, and some improvisational performing. The inexperienced but inherently gifted actor landed the part of dimwitted bureacrat Wikus van de Merwe after wowing his director/pal in a test footage audition. Now his face is gracing the cover of magazines and both his and his character's tongue-twister names have become parts of the moviegoing public's vocabulary.
Copley deserves the attention he's receiving. His performance as Wikus has everything that this radical yet incredibly realistic movie needs: strength, subtlety, humor and heart. It's not necessarily the kind of work that wins Oscars (since that's not necessarily what "District 9" is about), but it is indeed a star-making turn. Sympathetic and ultimately heroic but certainly not without flaws, Wikus is the only human character with whom the audience can connect -- a tall order that Copley skillfully and successfully tackles.
Blomkamp has expressed an interest in pursuing a "District 9" sequel, and depending on the way the story develops, Copley may also be back for a second go-round. Aside from that, the buzzworthy 35-year-old doesn't seem to be attached to any other upcoming projects. Having recently wrapped his first film's promotional tour, he's presumably quite busy reveling in his newfound notoriety -- and taking a lot of phone calls.