A Long Way Down

Posted: March 25, 2014 in Film reviews

Directed by Pascal Chaumeil. Starring Pierce Brosnan, Toni Collette, Imogen Poots and Aaron Paul.

It’s New Year’s Eve, and Martin Sharp (Brosnan) is on his way to the roof of Topper House. Having lost his wife and family, and his career as a breakfast TV presenter thanks to a dalliance with a 15 year old girl, he doesn’t think there’s much to live for so he’s going to commit suicide by jumping from the roof.

Whilst he’s summoning up the courage to jump, he’s joined by Maureen (Collette) who’s also looking to kill herself, but before either of them can act they find themselves having to stop manic depressive Jess (Poots) from hurling herself off the roof. They’re finally joined by failed musician come pizza delivery boy JJ (Paul) and, by the end of the evening they’ve agreed to a pact that none of them will kill themselves until Valentine’s Day (the next most popular day for suicides).

Despite wanting to keep the pact between the four of them, they find themselves becoming front page news thanks to Martin’s notoriety and because Jess’s father (an excellent, if underused Sam Neill) is shadow education minister—her family are also newsworthy because her older sister vanished two years before.

In an attempt to milk their newfound fame, the Topper House Four (as they’re now known) decide to embellish their story with lies about a white light that appeared to keep them safe, unfortunately Jess decides this isn’t nearly interesting enough, so soon a white light has become an angel. An angel who looks like Matt Damon. An angel who looks like a naked Matt Damon…

As infamy and their newfound relationships heap more pressures upon their original problems, and with Valentine’s Day approaching, will they find themselves back on the roof once more?

A Long Way Down is a curious beast. The cinematic equivalent of someone taking pieces from multiple jigsaw puzzles and jamming them together, but surprisingly still creating an almost coherent final image.

Suicide is a difficult subject to build a comedy around; especially when you’re trying to make a feel good film into the bargain, and I’m unsure how much of Nick Hornby’s original novel made it into the film. Whilst not gritty and realistic, the film is darker and spikier than you might have expected judging by the poster and the trailer. Not much darker it’s true, but there is a little more to this than meets the initial eye.

The premise is a bit of a tough sell, not so much the fact that the four meet on the roof given that Topper House is supposedly a notorious suicide spot and its New Year’s Eve, as the contrivance that sees them all sharing a car journey just minutes later. Once you can get past this, and once the pact has been drawn up and signed (and there’s an amusing punch line to this) the film settles down a little and starts to breathe.

Brosnan’s performance is a trifle uneven, or perhaps that’s just his accent which seems to vary throughout the film, when he’s good however he is good, notably in the quieter scenes, and when he’s bouncing off Poots or Neill. Collette is a great actress and if there’s a problem with her performance it’s down to the fact that she plays the dowdy, downtrodden mother character so well that we’ve seen her do it several times before. Not having watched Breaking Bad (yet) this is actually the first time I’ve seen Paul in anything, and he’s likeable enough, despite being lumbered with the weakest character of the four, certainly in terms of his motivations. This leaves Poots, an increasingly impressive actress who, for me, is the glue that holds the story together; feisty, funny and at times heart-breaking; her character is perhaps the one who goes through the greatest range of emotions within the film, from scaling manic highs to plumbing tearful lows.

Story wise most plot points are signposted early on, and the film rarely deviates from the path, but that’s fine, sometimes you don’t want twists and turns, sometimes you want a film that does exactly what it says on the tin, and A Long Way Down is pretty much that film. Some elements seem a little off, the random holiday to Tenerife for example, whilst a couple of, what seem to be, important plot points never come close to any resolution, namely Jess’ missing sister, and the mystery of who originally tipped the papers off to the Topper House Four.

It’s funny and it’s nice, and you find yourself liking the characters, even Brosnan’s, and if it’s all very cosy and predictable for the most part, there is the odd rusty nail or bit of broken glass hidden in the long grass to catch you unawares, such as a wonderfully venomous cameo by Rosamund Pike.

Not the kind of film that’s going to change your life, but not a film that’ll make you want to clamber to the roof of Topper House either.

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