Reviewer: Freda Cooper
Director: Daniel Scheinert, Dan Kwan
Stars: Daniel Radcliffe, Paul Dano, Mary Elizabeth Winstead
Released 30th September 2016
It’s Part Two of Daniel Radcliffe Fortnight. After playing an under cover FBI agent inside a network of white supremacists in ‘Imperium’ last week, this time he’s a flatulent corpse in ‘Swiss Army Man’. Not an idea that would immediately fire your imagination.
Neither, at first sight, does the storyline. Hank (Paul Dano) is stranded on an island and is about to hang himself when he spots a body washed up on the beach (Radcliffe). He befriends it, calls it Manny, talks to it and then discovers it can talk back to him. Not only that, but it has other talents, all of which not only keep Hank alive but help him find his way home. See what I mean?
The film’s attracted an unexpected amount of attention wherever it’s been shown this year – and not just because of the farting. It’s split audiences right down the middle, causing more than a few walk-outs. And, from the first reviews in the UK, this country is likely to be no different. It’s a real Marmite movie.
Manny’s many and varied talents are just one example of the film’s left field imagination. Swallowing gallons of water so that when Hank presses his chest, he becomes a gushing tap. Those farts help with lighting fires – the old gag. And one particular part of his anatomy makes a remarkably effective compass. He has a multitude of uses, hence the title.
It’s definitely a uniquely strange film, a fantasy which is blurred around the edges, so you’re never sure if what you’re seeing is the product of Hank’s imagination or genuinely for real, however unlikely. And, despite the way the ending takes you, you’re still not sure by the end. Don’t worry about it. Just go with the flow – like Hank and Manny. You’ll laugh, inwardly and out loud, and you’ll do it a lot. Not just at the fart jokes, but also at Manny’s childlike view of the world and uninhibited way of expressing himself. The relationship between the two is genuinely moving, as is Hank’s growing admission to himself and Manny that he’s never been good with other people. He’s awkward and doesn’t know how to express himself, but Manny gives him the courage he needs – because Hank is helping him to do the same. It’s a film with a fragility, a vulnerability, at its core that makes you feel so protective that you just want to scoop it up and keep it safe.
Much of that is down to its two stars, Dano and Radcliffe, and because it’s essentially a two-hander, there’s no room for either of them to put a toe wrong. And they don’t. Dano’s superb, peeling back the layers of somebody who’s never found life, or other people, easy. Radcliffe has the more demanding role, especially physically. After the decidedly average ‘Imperium’ last week, this really gives him a chance to shine and demonstrate just how far he’s come as an actor since playing a certain boy wizard. And there’s still so much more to come.
‘Swiss Army Man’ won’t appeal to everybody, but with its imagination, quirky humour and sensational leads, it’s more than worth giving it a shot. It isn’t getting massive distribution, it probably won’t win any big awards – but it will win hearts and is odds-on to become a much loved cult classic. In a year when we’ve been smothered by re-boots and sequels, it shows us that originality and creativity are still alive in the film industry. And hooray for that!