SWISS ARMY MAN

If you see only one movie this year in which Daniel Rad­cliffe plays a fart­ing corpse etc etc.

Empire (UK) - - CONTENTS - CHRIS HE­WITT

IN THIS Me­dia-sat­u­rated world, where we’re bom­barded 24/7 by im­ages that are usually in­spired by or based on or down­right ripped-off from other sources, orig­i­nal­ity has be­come an en­dan­gered species. Ev­ery­thing’s been done, it seems. Played out. It’s in­creas­ingly rare for a movie to show you some­thing you haven’t seen be­fore. That’s not a prob­lem for Swiss Army Man.

Two min­utes in, and Paul Dano’s Hank is thwarted in his at­tempts to com­mit sui­cide on a beach by the sud­den ap­pear­ance of a corpse, played by Daniel Rad­cliffe. Five min­utes in, and Hank is rid­ing the same corpse across the ocean like a Jet Ski, pow­ered by the strength of the poor dead bas­tard’s pow­er­ful farts. Fif­teen min­utes in, that corpse — now called Manny — is some­how talk­ing and jerk­ily mov­ing. Thirty min­utes in, it’s us­ing its in­ex­pli­ca­ble erec­tion as a GPS (“Manny, I think your pe­nis is guid­ing us home!”). Later still, Hank and Manny are recre­at­ing Juras­sic Park in an at­tempt to… Well, you’ll see. The point is, Swiss Army Man so fre­quently presents you with things you gen­uinely haven’t seen be­fore that it al­most be­comes a bit dizzy­ing. Un­less you see a fart­ing corpse cut­ting trees with its arms ev­ery day, in which case good luck to you.

But it’s not just about the im­ages that first­time di­rec­tors Schein­ert and Kwan — known as The Daniels — de­liver here. This is a glo­ri­ously in­ven­tive fa­ble about hu­man­ity, faith, guilt and much more that is by turns hilarious, mov­ing, ju­ve­nile and deeply pro­found. There were re­ports of nu­mer­ous walk­outs dur­ing the film’s de­but at this year’s Sun­dance Film Fes­ti­val — per­haps they were ex­pect­ing some­thing akin to Week­end

At Bernie’s III. More fool those who bailed, be­cause they missed one of the year’s best films.

The Daniels’ mas­ter­stroke here is to couch Manny’s ‘re­birth’ as an ac­cel­er­ated jour­ney through the hu­man life cy­cle. So he starts off as a man-child, naive, trust­ing, thirsty for knowl­edge, then rapidly ratch­ets through a new pu­berty (hence the hy­per­ac­tive pe­nis) and adult­hood, which brings with it an aware­ness of sex, love, death and mor­tal­ity, and all the dark­en­ing thoughts those bring. All the while, his bond with the timid, in­tro­spec­tive Hank evolves from sweet to vaguely sin­is­ter.

A true two-han­der, all the vis­ual and au­ral in­ven­tion from the Daniels would count for noth­ing if their leads didn’t de­liver. Thank­fully, they do. Dano is de­pend­ably ex­cel­lent as Hank, although this kind of tor­tured out­sider is not ex­actly a de­par­ture. Rad­cliffe — the third Daniel — is the revelation here. Since he last bat­tled You-know-who in You-know-what and headed off to forge his own path, he’s been a con­sis­tently in­ter­est­ing, sur­pris­ing and com­mit­ted ac­tor, but as Manny he’s truly as­ton­ish­ing.

Tech­ni­cally, it’s a per­for­mance that re­quires in­cred­i­ble con­trol of his body and face, not to men­tion an ut­ter lack of van­ity or ego, as Manny is con­torted into all kinds of un­flat­ter­ing poses, thrust face down into the dirt and heaped with in­dig­ni­ties. But where Rad­cliffe re­ally tri­umphs is in his del­i­cate evo­ca­tion of Manny’s ev­er­chang­ing moods, from child­like whimsy to ado­les­cent anger. It’s an ex­tra­or­di­nary turn, and one that de­serves to be re­mem­bered when Os­car sea­son comes round. If any­thing, the choice of clip for any awards show broad­cast should be in­ter­est­ing. Will they go with the fart­ing, or the hard-on?

VER­DICT The ad­ven­tures of a sui­ci­dal man and a fart­ing corpse sound like an off-broad­way play gone wrong. Far from it — this is ex­tra­or­di­nary, vi­tal, and fu­elled by great per­for­mances. A mould-breaker.

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