Sound familiar? It could be today, in any number of cities, and Elysium could be an earnest slice of social realism or a hard-hitting documentary. But it isn't. It's set in the future, and it's a sci-fi action movie.
That's exactly what we'd expect, or hope for, from the director of District 9. Neill Blomkamp's debut, concerning alien refugees with the misfortune to land in South Africa, was a hugely impressive genre hybrid, mixing social satire, character-driven drama and full-on action.
Many have tried, but few succeeded, in combining action with substance. Somehow Blomkamp managed to reflect on apartheid and migration, while also gleefully letting rip with the sort of highly imagined hardware you'd expect from a James Cameron movie.
He is now attempting a similar trick, with the greater budget that comes with success and a couple of Hollywood A-listers adding kudos. And by talking about economic inequality, he's got a topic that touches everyone.
In 2154, the Earth is bled dry, devastated. The wealthy have jumped ship, living in the vast space station Elysium, while the multitudinous have-nots live no-hope existences on the surface, still working for the rich and kept in check by robotic security forces.
What makes this divide so galling is Elysium's development in medical care - a pod that cures every sickness known to man. In the film's most perspicacious observation, the elite have no desire, inclination even, to share it. People smugglers send shuttles full of the sick towards the station, which are usually destroyed before they reach it.
Max (Matt Damon) is a former petty criminal on parole trying to keep his nose clean, which isn't easy when your parole officer is a robot with no sense of humour. He loses his, quickly, when a factory accident leaves him with radiation poisoning and days to live. He needs to get himself to Elysium.
In Earth's corner, a lovely trio of Latin actors - the Mexican Diego Luna as Max's best friend, and the Brazilians Alice Braga as his childhood sweetheart and Wagner Moura, entertainingly over the top as a smuggler.
Slugging it out for Elysium, Jodie Foster as the Machiavellian defence secretary, Sharlto Copley as her off-the-books killer, and William Fichtner, who steals the show as a preening factory owner who can't stand breathing the same air as his workers.
As with District 9, the conceit is a strong one, extrapolating current society's ills to a logical extreme, in the safe hands of science fiction. Unfortunately, this time the realisation falls short. As Damon and Copley play a violent cat and mouse, Blomkamp loses himself in the action, and the film forgets it had something to say.
Damon is his reliable, everyman self. Yet Copley, so good as the reluctant hero of District 9, makes too repugnant a bad guy. And Foster is awful; misguidedly taking on an English accent (everyone knows that Americans are neutered by an accent) this usually fine actress barely registers.
With some mouthwatering special effects and spectacular weaponry, this is a better-tha-average action film though ultimately it is just that.