Whether or not you’re a fan of young Daniel Radcliffe – and there are some here at STARBURST HQ who’ll never be taking the plunge and joining his official Appreciation Society – you have to admire, however grudgingly, his determination to shake off the long shadow cast across his career by his eight-movie run as JK Rowling’s wearisome whippersnapper wizard, Harry Potter. Radcliffe himself admits that Potter will be with him for the rest of his life but he’s working his wand off in finding the oddest, unlikeliest roles which will, at least, prove that he’s a more versatile actor than his Hogwarts days ever suggested.
Not convinced? Take a look at Swiss Army Man and you just might be minded to give him the benefit of the doubt. This bizarre and angular new movie from Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert – “a film by Daniels” – is surely the most fractured and downright perverse film of the year. It’s a film you’ll have to work with if you want to let it into your life as it makes no real concessions to the typical expectations of even the most broad-minded cinema audience. Paul Dano stars as Hank, stranded for God-knows-how-long on a desert island. When we meet him he’s had enough of the despair and the loneliness and he’s about to hang himself. Then there’s a glimmer of salvation when a body washes up on the beach; but the body’s a corpse, it looks a lot like Daniel Radcliffe and it’s given to moments of spontaneous animation due to its… er… build-up of natural bodily gases. Hank, spectacularly resourceful, uses Dan’s gaseous emissions to jet-ski away from the island and back to the mainland, but still miles away from civilisation and lost in the wilderness. Suddenly the corpse – Hank names him Manny – starts to talk and the two develop a bizarre and mutually-dependent relationship as Hank fills in the blanks in Manny’s memory and Manny’s rigor mortis turns him into a useful chopping device, a catapult and even an unorthodox priapic compass.
There’s a fair chance that you might find all this utterly frivolous if not entirely silly. You certainly have to go with the film’s unique flow and let it at least try to work its magic as it slowly gets under your skin. In time it reveals itself as a rather touching treatise on loneliness, friendship and even love and it all eventually hangs together thanks to the terrific chemistry between Dano and Radcliffe which makes the thing work even in it’s more extreme and exasperating moments. By the last half-hour – and there’s a sequence where the film looks as if it’s drifting into Revenant territory – the tone changes slightly, the film seems to suddenly fit together and it becomes far more poignant, emotional and urgent than its first sixty-minutes of farting gags and dressing-up might have suggested.
Swiss Army Man isn’t easily-digestible viewing but sometimes film needs to remind us that it’s an art form as well as an entertainment platform. It doesn’t always work, not all its ideas hang together but in the end it’s a quirky, unique experience which hits the target more often than it misses. We can’t guarantee that you’ll love it unreservedly – we’re not sure we do either – but it’s certainly quite unlike anything else you’ll see on the big screen this year and surely that, alone, is recommendation enough.
SWISS ARMY MAN / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR & SCREENPLAY: DAN KWAN, DANIEL SCHEINERT / STARRING: PAUL DANO, DANIEL RADCLIFFE, MARY ELIZABETH WINSTEAD / RELEASE DATE: SEPTEMBER 30TH
Expected Rating: 5 out of 10