Soylent Green (Richard Fleischer, 1973)
[originally posted 15Feb2001]
So what’s the difference between schlock and one of the 100 best films ever made? Sometimes, I’ll admit, it’s a pretty blurry line. That’s the case with this gem from the Richard Fleischer stable, a tale of a New York City with a population of forty million and a food supply that comes in little squares of red, yellow, and green.
Thorn (Heston) chews scenery. Roth (Edward G. Robinson) spends his life moaning about how things were better in the seventies. (If only they knew.) The two of them try to get through their lives scavenging from the rich, like everyone else in New York. They have an edge, with Thorn being a cop who treats corruption like a comfortable pair of undershorts. A high society murder tips Thorn off that all may not be well with Soylent, the company that makes the majority of the world’s food supply, and Thorn and Roth start digging deeper despite warnings from the victim’s old bodyguard (Stephen Young) and Thorn’s lieutenant (Brock Peters). The production values are strictly seventies, and it’s great to poke fun at various things in the film (“my god, it’s 2022 and they’re still listening to bad lounge music?”). And yet there’s something undefinable about this film that propels it from the realm of bad seventies science-fiction exploitation into the realm of true genius. What that thing is, I don’t know; when I figure it out, I’ll tell you. But something clicked. Heston’s patented god-guns-and-guts character is perfect for the role. Robinson actually looks convincing salivating over a stick of celery. And somehow the movie’s last lines are delivered convincingly. It’s incredible. Whatever magic they managed to make with this one, Hollywood needs to make more of it. **** ½