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Non-Review Review: A Long Way Down

This film was seen as part of the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival 2014.

A Long Way Down is never anywhere near as irreverent as it thinks it is. The story of four people who attempted suicide on “the most popular suicide spot on the most popular night for suicides” has a pretty effective basic premise. There’s a lot of material for a pitch black comedy here, particularly with Pierce Brosnan playing a former television presenter who has been convicted of having sex with a minor. (The BBC co-production credit makes this plot point feel particularly awkward.)

Instead, A Long Way Down pitches itself as a generic feel-good yearn about how people are nowhere near as cynical as they might initially claim to be. Ironically, this ends up making A Long Way Down feel particularly cynical.

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The hook is a good one. Four people climb to the top of a famous suicide spot with the intention of ending their lives on New Year’s Eve. There’s some light (but nice) situational comedy about the social awkwardness in multiple overlapping suicide attempts, but this is about as much bite as A Long Way Down ever has. From the moment the four people leave the rooftop, everything evolves in the most stereotypical manner possible, with various characters finding meaning in their lives and learning that depression is something that can be resolved with the help of quirky supporting characters and manic adventures.

To describe A Long Way Down as trite feels overly generous. The story never has the bite that it needs – it always pulls its punches. It’s easy enough to chart the narrative course of any of the four central characters over the course of the film, and to predict the flow of the story. There’s a low point, a gradual build towards a healthy status quo, and then some conveniently timed third act upsets. The four lead characters aren’t so much characters as archetypes with quirks.

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Pierce Brosnan is Martin, a disgraced fame-hungry former presenter who wakes up every morning feeling constantly “humiliated.” Toni Colette plays Maureen, the most decent of the bunch, an over-worked mother to a child with a serious medical condition. Aaron Paul is JJ, the troubled former musician-turned-pizza-delivery-boy with his own secrets. Imogen Poots is the rebellious daughter of a successful British politician.

None of what happens is unpredictable. None of the characters ever seem to come alive, or seem like more than just two dimensional cut outs. We get lots of forced cynicism from the mouths of the characters, but the movie lacks the strength of will to actually pursue any of those angles. Indeed, despite the rather morbid premise, A Long Way Down is decidedly toothless – it refuses to commit to anything that might jostle the audience or catch them off-guard. As a result, it feels cynical and manipulative.

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To be fair, the four leads do the best they have with the material available to them. Pierce Brosnan manages a few effective moments of emotional resonance, particularly when conversing with JJ about what really bothers him about his change in circumstances. Brosnan has a lot of skill at playing those superficially charming but secretly unsettling characters – one could even argue that his version of James Bond was a sociopath who had simply learnt to conceal his violent side better than Daniel Craig’s.

Imogen Poots also does good work here, playing a role that could easily have descended much further into the niche of comedic support. Poots gives Jess a strange charm and vulnerability despite the script’s somewhat stilted attempt to capture how young people speak. That said, randomly inserting swear words into dialogue is not the least effective means of conveying that a character is young and feckless. Still, Poots is wonderfully emotive and effective. Like Brosnan, Poots is a performer frequently undervalued by her material.

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Aaron Paul and Toni Colette are as reliable as they generally are, but are both given very little room to breath in the script. Colette is relegated to the token role of “the nice one”, a role that would carry more weight if the film was willing to make any of its characters genuinely unpleasant. Paul is put in the unfortunate position of being relatively under-developed for most of the film and then being forced to shoulder the movie’s climax. It’s not the most flattering position for the talented American actor.

A Long Way Down is a movie with no shortage of potential. Unfortunately, it lacks the courage to follow up on any of that, and the result is a very average piece of fluff that wastes not only a strong premise, but a fine cast.

All audience members are asked to rank films in the festival from 1 (worst) to 4 (best). In the interest of full and frank disclosure, here is my score: 2

3 Responses

  1. Thanks for your blog.

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