Paycheck

October 3, 2010

PaycheckWikipedia | Paycheck is a 2003 film adaptation of the short story of the same name by science fiction writer Philip K. Dick. The film was directed by John Woo and stars Ben Affleck, Uma Thurman and Aaron Eckhart. Paul Giamatti and Colm Feore also appear.

Paycheck is Woo’s last American film to date.

Michael Jennings is a reverse engineer; for lucrative sums of money, he analyzes his clients’ competitors’ products and designs new versions that excel above and beyond the original’s features. When he finishes the job, he undergoes a memory wipe with help from his friend Shorty. The memory wipe is achieved by computer technology able to scan one’s brain and erase whatever must be erased. This ensures that the new product cannot be tracked back to the reverse engineering effort, thereby protecting his client’s intellectual property. However, it is a dangerous practice because the erasing machine increases brain temperature at possibly lethal levels. In the movie it seems that brain technology is widely used by private sector and the police too.

Jennings is offered a job from James Rethrick, an old college roommate and CEO of Allcom. Whereas none of Jennings’ previous jobs has ever lasted longer than two months (because the memory technology could not go very far through past), Rethrick informs him that this job will take up to three years. Rethrick offers to reward Jennings handsomely in company stock in exchange for what amounts to three years of lost life. Jennings agrees, and is injected with a special radioactive memory marker that will be used to track down how far his memories have to be erased. It is another method for memory wiping without the aid of scanners which “cook” the brain. The drawback is that as a chemical method is not 100% complete. Very little information stil remains in the brain leaving a chance for later recovery. Jennings takes up residence in the highly secure Allcom facility, falling in love with biologist Dr. Rachel Porter during his tenure.

Three years later, Jennings awakens, finding himself in the year 2007 (according to a form in an envelope shown later in the movie). He is congratulated by Rethrick for a successful job, but when he attempts to cash in on his reward he finds that he signed away his shares of Allcom. All that Jennings has to show for his time is an envelope claiming to be his personal possessions that he entered Allcom with three years ago, but instead contains a seemingly random assortment of items. As Jennings tries to figure out what happened, he is captured by the FBI who are concerned over his involvement with Allcom and the connected disappearance and death of physicist William Dekker. Jennings manages to escape their captivity, quickly realizing that each item in the envelope can be used at the right time to keep himself out of the FBI’s hands.

Meanwhile, Rethrick is surprised to learn that Jennings managed to escape the FBI, and starts an investigation of how he was able to escape. He discovers that Jennings left a message to Rachel to meet at a cafe that day, and attempts to fool Jennings with a similarly looking decoy. Jennings is saved from the encounter by the real Rachel, and together they escape both Rethrick and the FBI. Jennings comes to learn of his past romance with Rachel. As the two sort through the remaining items in the envelope, they encounter a microdot on one of the stamps on the envelope; up close, the dot reveals images, most of future newspaper headlines that outline Allcom’s rising success due to a device that can predict the future, and the political battles over the technology. These lead to a series of self-fulfilling prophecies and a final image showing a planet devastated by nuclear war.

The two come to realize that Jennings must have been working on this time predictive device while at Allcom, reverse engineering the details from Dekker. This device was nothing but a global forecast expert system able to predict the exact future of every human. When the machine starts up, the operator selects from a database the desirable target and the machine loads a related video visible on a large screen. This way, the operator simulates his future, avoiding possibly fatal errors. Perhaps, the machine uses laser beams able to detect gravity potential of every object including humans, so it can predict the moves and acts of everyone.

Jennings, having discovered this grim future (including his own death), took steps to try to prevent it. Using the machine, Jennings looked into his immediate future and provided himself with a set of objects that would keep him out of danger without the objects having any obvious value. Jennings also had managed to sabotage the device just prior to leaving Allcom, rendering it useless for Rethrick to attempt to use to trace him down using the same methods. The sabotage was made by placing a virus microchip on one of the machine’s many motherboards. This change lead the machine to an “Error 41″.

Jennings and Rachel use the remaining items in the envelope to infiltrate Allcom and discover the machine. Jennings is able to find the circuit that he had previously altered, and uses the device once more, seeing himself being shot by an FBI sniper. The two rig the system to explode and then try to escape, but are cornered by Rethrick armed with a gun. Before Rethrick has a chance to shoot him, an alarm from a watch from Jennings’ envelope of miscellaneous items goes off, allowing Jennings to duck just in time before the FBI fires, causing the bullet to fatally strike Rethrick. Jennings and Rachel escape just before the time prediction machine explodes. The FBI agents allow Jennings to go free after investigating the wreckage of the machine.

Jennings, Rachel, and Shorty begin a greenhouse operation, and come to realize that Jennings had used the device one last time while working at Allcom to secure a winning lottery ticket worth over $90 million, hidden in Rachel’s birdcage.

Link: Paycheck at IMDB