John Murdoch is tortured by strange memories and visions that the people around him don't seem to share. Is he going mad? Or is there something in the sunless city where he lives that can explain what is happening to him?
The last we saw of Proyas' work was The Crow - a movie that the majority of its audience went to see to try to catch the point at which Brandon Lee checked out - but which turned out to be a satisfyingly dark and melancholic comic book piece showcasing Proyas' unique visuals. With Dark City we get the same gloomy pop Gothery but this time with less of the emotional content. And no one bought it on set. Bummer.
John Murdoch (Sewell) wakes up in the bath only to find that the metropolis around him is in the process of being physically remodelled by a bunch of pale-faced floating blokes in terrifying hats who look like the kind of thing Salvador Dali might have nightmares about. Not only that, but they're swapping people's personalities over, and Murdoch has wound up as a murderer pursued by the cops. He must persuade Inspector Bumstead (Hurt) that there is something afoot with the city while Dr. Schreber (Sutherland in an enjoyably over-the-top Peter Lorre impression) tries to track him down to administer the painful head injection that will make him forget.
If this all sounds beyond ludicrous that's because it is. Proyas appears to have been so distracted with his gloomy vision of the city that he forgot to actually write anything approaching a coherent story. Which is why, while the majority of the performances are serviceable, it's the sheer overwhelming style that gets Dark City through. Proyas drenches each shot in a unique feel and delivers a movie with a visual sense with all the inventive, poetic power of Ridley Scott or Terry Gilliam firing on all cylinders.
In life looks may not be everything. In Dark City they are. And they're magnificent.