Carl Hunter (director)
14 June 2019 (released)
12 June 2019
There’s a deep emotional depth in this film that is eventually tapped but it’s an arduous journey getting there, and some might not. Littered with surreal touches such as the use of stop-motion motion and the obvious use of back projection when they are driving gives it a very contrived European air. They throw the viewer complicating the film and turning it into a technical exercise and puzzle.
And puzzle is a key element as Alan (Bill Nighy) the father whom we first meet traveling with his son Peter (Sam Riley) to identify a body that may or may not be of his other son Michael who disappeared many years before. By chance they meet Margaret (Jenny Agutter) and Arthur (Tim McInnerny) a couple who are also missing a son.
A strange acquaintance is formed in a hotel bar; the hues and shadows of which vaguely bring to mind Hopper’s Nighthawks. Alan hustles Arthur out £200, playing Scrabble. It’s a wilfully odd situation with the camera framing the actors almost in still-life.
Returning home Alan stays the night with his son, daughter in law Sue (Alice Lowe) and grandson Jack (Louis Healy). He sleeps in the bunk-bed much to his grandson’s annoyance. Into these tensions are leaking Jack’s teenage hormones; he has a crush on a girl but doesn’t know how to deal with it.
Enter grandad - the tailor - who advises him on the sartorial essentials, and gaining some kudos from Jack. However tension is building between Alan and Peter, which is stretched to breaking point when Peter finds an unexpected guest in the house. The puzzles continue, the scrabble goes on line with Alan starting a game that could finally see a resolution to the family’s ordeal.
At the centre of the film, for all its directorial flourishes, is the study of a man caught between denial and acceptance of his situation. But it is all hidden behind a facade of games and a sheen of normality. It’s a tough nut to crack as the film has a certain coldness of touch and detachment, making it difficult to really empathise but then this is probably the aim to show Alan's mental isolation from Peter.
The cast are all excellent really working with Frank Cottrell Boyce’s rich script. However, overall it is a disappointment as Carl Hunter’s mechanical direction (that at times is quite beautiful) makes it look and sound like a construct. As such there is much to admire here but not easy to warm to.