This is one of those cases where I did myself a disservice waiting too long to see the movie. It got talked up too much and then wound up being Oscar-nominated. I wish I had gone into District 9 without any expectation. But that's my problem, not the movie's problem.
What I liked about this story was the way it was different from most alien movies. The alien ship hovers above Johannesburg rather than a major American city. This isn't a typical alien invasion movie and made me think about Alien Nation instead of something like Independence Day. There is no big action star leading the charge to fight off some big alien threat. Much in the same way Cloverfield was about the "common man," this movie was as well.
And right off the bat, they had me much the same way Cloverfield did. This movie starts off as though we're watching a documentary (in the same way The Office or, to a lesser degree, Arrested Development is done) about some major event we would have heard about if we had lived in this reality. I thought it was a brilliant way to tell this story and for the first few minutes, I was very impressed with the movie.
At some point, the movie makes a shift away from the documentary-style, shifts back, shifts away again, shifts back, shifts away for a long time, shifts back briefly before the end, and then ends away from it in the wrap up. My preference is that they pick one way to tell the story and stick with it throughout. The more impressive route would have been going with a documentary approach all the way, but maybe that wasn't doable. If that was the case, it could have been made more clear if we were in the documentary or not.
Sharto Copley's character was rather unlikable by the end of the movie, although he eventually redeems himself to a certain degree. This was another case where I found myself flip-flopping in the story. At times I was rooting for him and other times I was rooting against him. I suppose that's the way humans are and it is fitting in this "common man" story.
Well before the movie is over, the stage was being set for a sequel. Although, I don't think it needs one.
While I have criticisms, I still enjoyed the movie and found the narrative to be very strong in spite of the inconsistencies throughout in delivering that narrative.
The performances throughout were great. While Copley's character was unlikable at times, he did a great job portraying that character.
The major plus were the special effects. WETA delivers some truly stellar effects once again.
The major drawback was the score. I found it to be overly dramatic at times and very repetitive. I wish it had been more understated throughout.