Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell) is an astronaut who is completing a three-year shift working on the dark side of the moon. It's the future, sort of, and the world has run out of energy, Interstellar-style, but scientists figured out that rocks that have been baked by the sun's rays contain a compound called Helium-3 that acts as an alternate energy source. Sam's there to make sure the self-driving Harvesters continue their operations smoothly and to ship out the parcels of Helium-3 back to Earth. He's accompanied by GERTY (the voice of Kevin Spacey), a computer powered by artificial intelligence that accomplishes tasks ranging from upkeep of the base to cutting Sam's hair. Things are going pretty much okay, but Sam's getting tired and ready to go back home to his wife and little girl.
Other movie reviews will tell you about where things go next, but I'd like for you to have the opportunity to experience Moon without knowing the plot's jumping-off point. I know that that makes it hard for me to sell this movie to you, but suffice it to say that first-time director, Duncan Jones, and also first-time screenwriter, Nathan Parker (no, not Nate Parker from The Birth of a Nation and the news), have crafted a modern science fiction masterpiece. This movie is the sort that most sci-fi aspires to be: hard science-influenced, believable premise to begin with that allows the characters and setting to breathe, while morphing into a film that is about humanity and the displacement of which that modernity tends to create.
Jones operated on a mere $5 million to shoot his film, but he uses every cent of it to great effect. The special effects--seven years old and counting--still convince because they are used sparingly (typically only to visualize the giant Harvesters, the rubble they create and usually at a great distance). Otherwise, the film is set in a single location: Sam's base. Jones does a great job at mapping out the geography of the base, which becomes more significant as the story goes on and feels increasingly claustrophobic. Parker gives the dialogue verisimilitude while simultaneously convincing us that Sam is just a regular guy with an extraordinary job, one that has become wholly mundane over the years. GERTY could also have been a HAL-9000 knockoff, especially with Spacey's chilly delivery, but the pedigree and performance are red herrings, which is refreshing after decades of Evil Computers crowding the cinemas.
Without being pedantic, Jones manages to make an enemy out of Big Business, a story trope that Hollywood never tires of trotting out. But the difference here is that Jones's approach is much more even-keeled than we're used to seeing. Unlike another 2009 science fiction release, Avatar, there is no Scrooge McDuck-via-Giovanni Ribisi rubbing his hands together as he envisions mountains of gold coins. Sam is in the same position as any other victim of corporate greed: he sees only the effects but not necessarily the moneyed Masters of the Universe who wield all the power. They're sure as hell not decaying light years away as the world moves on without them.