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Rubikon has a premise that presents a fascinating moral quandary, which it then fails to find any drama in. It's been a while since a movie felt this anti-climactic. The whole story takes place inside the titular spaceship. A group of astronauts has been on a long mission and is eager to return home. That may not be a possibility when they witness a toxic cloud of pollution envelop the Earth. Whatever happened down there was catastrophic.

The astronauts – Hannah (Julia Franz Richter), Gavin (George Blagden), and Dimitri (Mark Ivanir) – soon pick up a transmission from below. At least one pocket of survivors exists. There could be more. Two options exist. One is that they could live inside the ship, taking advantage of its algae symbiosis system that will sustain their lives indefinitely. The other is attempting to rescue the people who are presently surviving. The first is great for them, terrible for the people on Earth. The second puts them in danger but could save lives, if successful.

With that in place, Rubikon looks at how the three debate and argue over which course of action is best. I can't think of many morality riddles more complex than that. Do you sacrifice the many for the guaranteed good of the few, or do you risk sacrificing the few if there's even a remote chance of saving the many? So much could be done with that idea, but the screenplay by Jessica Lind and director Magdelena Lauritsch is too underwritten to get any real mileage from it.

A picture like this, which is talky by nature, needs a script that crackles. It needs the deftness of language that Aaron Sorkin and David Mamet have, or dialogue that reveals inner torment, like Paul Schrader specializes in. The audience needs to hang on every word. That doesn't happen here. The deepest corners of this ethical conundrum are never explored, turning Rubikon a shallow story about a complex theme.

It's extra disappointing that the movie doesn't deliver the dramatic goods because the production design is outstanding. A lot of effort clearly went into designing the sets and creating the visual effects. Lots of eye-popping shots exist in the film. The international cast is fine, too. There's no reason to think they could not have handled a more complex take on the concept. Rubikon is fine on all the surface levels. It just has a big black hole right where all the substance should be.

out of four

Rubikon is unrated, but contains brief language and mild sexuality. The running time is 1 hour and 49 minutes.