UK Release Date: 30th September 2016
Runtime: 97 minutes
Starring: Paul Dano, Daniel Radcliffe, Mary Elizabeth Winstead
Synopsis: A depressed man contemplating suicide while marooned on a desert island gets a new lease of life when he befriends a corpse that seems to have a series of unusual magical powers, most of which are themed around farting and erections.
There have been a fair few exceedingly weird films this year, from foul-mouthed animation Sausage Party to horror oddity The Greasy Strangler, but Swiss Army Man is certainly among the strangest of the lot. It has become notorious since its Sundance debut as being the “Daniel Radcliffe farting corpse movie”, but the film is actually far more than that and a truly ambitious work of cinema. It has divided critics, with some walking out of festival screenings and others lavishing five-star ratings on a movie that is actually rather clever indeed. But he really does fart a lot.
Hank (Paul Dano) is seconds away from hanging himself on a deserted island when a body (Radcliffe) washes up on the shore. Momentarily snapped out of his depression, Hank soon discovers that the corpse’s frequent flatulence can propel him to somewhere new. Handed a new and unusual reason for living, Hank teams up with the corpse, which he calls Manny, in an attempt to get back to civilisation.
We often decry modern cinema for its lack of innovation and its desperate adherence to easily marketable properties which bring in proven box office moolah. With that in mind, Swiss Army Man is a genuinely refreshing journey into the bizarre and unknown. The film’s writing and directing duo, known only as Daniels, have conjured up an utterly unique work of cinema that walks a delicate line between fantasy, puerile comedy and genuinely heart-warming sentimentality. It doesn’t always hold together, but when it does, it’s really special.
An idea as off-the-wall as Swiss Army Man would not work without its two stellar central performances. Dano has carved out a real niche playing unusual indie roles like this one and he is great as Hank, clinging desperately to the one thing keeping him from going back to the noose we see him in as the film begins. It’s a role that marries delusion with something approaching love, as he discovers new things about his versatile new comrade and relishes the company of another human – even one who’s essentially a placebo.
Radcliffe, meanwhile, is an utter revelation here for anyone who has ever doubted his post-Potter acting ability. This is a performance of remarkable control and physicality, with Radcliffe forced to act using only his facial muscles for the majority of the film. His unique vocal turn also allows him to be completely hilarious one moment and entirely heart-breaking the next time he opens his mouth. It’s a performance so weird that it could’ve upended a film that was less sure of its bizarro tone, but the Daniels exercise absolute control over every weird genital movement and outbreak of bottom-burping.
That firm hand on the tiller slips somewhat in the uneven and messy final few minutes, but there are scenes in the middle portion of Swiss Army Man that are as good as anything on the big screen this year. It’s a film with real heart and a surprisingly emotional core, which mostly manages to make itself heard above the farting. It might not be the complete package, but believe the hype because this is one of the most original films of the year and it has to be seen to be believed.
Pop or Poop?
Swiss Army Man is a completely singular cinematic experience, devised by the Daniels, with devilish wit and a surprising dose of sweeping emotion. Radcliffe and Dano are excellent in roles that could easily have been played as broad caricature and the film is fiercely inventive, if a little ill-disciplined in the final few minutes.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.