So here’s another wonderful A-24 production.
As someone who only watched Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone out of the whole damn wand-happy series, Swiss Army Man was the one which turned me into an unapologetic Daniel Radcliffe fan. This is a fantastically offbeat film in which just about every shot is, frankly, vividly conceived and impeccably executed. A film rife with opportunities for reading into, and speculation about ‘what really happens’ can’t really be helped.
At face value, this is a survival story. Hank Thompson (a brilliant as always Paul Dano) is long-marooned on a desert island. His discarded garbage floats away into the open water, his despair at his situation poignantly acquiring permanence through the scribbled messages he wrote on said trash. Finding himself literally and figuratively at the end of his rope, Hank spots a body washed ashore. This triggers him to abandon his plans of suicide and puts his energies into familiarising himself with the body.
You read that right.
He starts to get to know the body, which incidentally, has a name and a personality it is dying to express, mostly through hyper-flatulence.
Lookit, this is such a madcap film that giving anything away other than the premise would totally ruin the experience for those who haven’t seen it. So from here on, my comments will purposely be sparse and generic.
I’ve watched this movie twice before. I never grow bored of it, on the contrary, I enjoy returning to it once a while for three reasons. Firstly, the narrative: the storyline is multi-layered and pretty much open to interpretation. Secondly, the imagery is so crisp, the colours so vivid and the blend between live action and cg so fuckin slick, visually, its beautiful. Its set on an island so naturally, the colour tones tend to veer towards the blues and greens. And the third reason is that I enjoy expressions of fantastical imagination. Of which this film has plenty.
This is a character driven film and thus, Radcliffe and Dano’s performances are what make it what it is. Daniel Radcliffe is astounding in his Frankenstein-ish turn as the popeyed, deceased but slowly and surely re-gaining a grip on life Manny, while Paul Dano, is excellent, as always. Having said that, the material he had to work with here has nothing on his other roles such as in There Will Be Blood (2007), or 12 Years a Slave (2013).
The soundtrack is one of the film’s major strengths. Unlike any other soundtrack I’ve ever heard its almost entirely stitched of vocal beats and sounds, largely contributing to the film’s haunting, ethereal quality. It in fact gives it a whole third dimension.
Its also a plus that one of the most sentimentally heartfelt song performances (with a theme that could also be considered central to the plot) is basically a tender rendition of the most irritating line-dancing tune of all time. Another instantly recognisable and iconic cinematic tune features twice. Similarly, the most inane and trite pseudo philosophical musings about farts and masturbation manage to come across as brilliantly perceptive.
The way almost all of the soundtrack is performed or at least starts out by being performed by the characters on-screen before meshing into a non-diegetic score feels original enough a way to break the fourth wall, making the whole thing much more engrossing and planting this film somewhere in the realms of musical-dom, although not quite.
Do yourself a favour and watch this film as, to date, it is the only place you’ll be treated to closeups of Daniel Radcliffe’s hairy bottom acting as a rocket-launcher while at the same time, you’ll be reminded that redemption (and salvation even) can be found in the shittiest, least expected situations.
Have you watched Swiss Army Man? What did you think of it? Has this review affected your opinion of it in any way? Let me know in the comments below!
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