Hank, stranded on a deserted island and about to kill himself, notices a corpse washed up on the beach. He befriends it, naming it Manny, only to discover that his new friend can talk and has a myriad of supernatural abilities…which may help him get home.
Yes, that’s it already: A super simple story, as obscure, nonsensical and surrealistic as it sounds. Even connosieurs of adolescent farting and other crude jokes … and jet propulsion will find more than enough reasons to love this movie. Because that’s what bloated dead bodies do best, right? Ok, word of warning here: If you’re rather undecided about the tastefulness of drinking fresh water out of a corpse’s mouth, then better give SAM a pass.
But please believe me, all that unsavoury shit isn’t what Swiss Army Man is about. Hubby and me are still trying to find out the deeper meaning of this basically two person play. And we have some theories. Hubby even thinks the end sequence ruined the movie while thick me kinda needed it.
We both think however that Paul Dano’s character, Hank, has more psychological problems than we first thought. And yes, okay I gotta admit the end sequence wasn’t necessary at all for the audience to draw their own conclusions. But I found it nice as an end point for the stupid masses of which I am a part of.
But here we met another problem of SAM. As Mark Kermode states in his review SAM would have made a fantastic short film but on feature length it’s not a great movie. Hmm, we watched it and weren’t bored throughout the runtime, which might be due to the clever construction and pacing of the movie. There is always enough momentum, enough drive towards the shared goal of Hank and Daniel Radcliffe’s character, the dead Manny. They want to get home. But indeed a bit tighter storytelling and more speed woudl’ve helped this movie along quite nicely.
But ok, still failing to get the real meaning of SAM let’s concentrate on the technical stuff: Paul Dano and Daniel Radcliffe were both wonderful. Dano played his deeply disturbed character, always on the brink between the two worlds of rationality and complete gaga, to perfection. I couldn’t make out what was reality and what was only happening in his mind until the very end. But then we gotta ask ourselves: Was the end sequence even real?
And Radcliffe, wow, he’s trying real hard to leave his Harry Potter child star image behind … and very sucessfully so. What he makes from the very limited acting range of a dead person is truly astonishing. Never ever have I seen a farting corpse showing such a wide range of expression.
All in all it was a great joy to see these two fine young actors going through the motions on screen. Very well done the both of them.
Camera and production was as expected from an artsy fartsy festival film, ok-ish to really beautiful, but nothing super spectacular. They made the best of the rather small budget of 3 mios US$$$.
Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Hank’s secretly and hopeless love interest, did what she could from her very short time on screen, which was mostly flashbacks, fantasy and in the end sequence as a real person … or wasn’t she? Anyway, her performance in SAM can’t be compared to her tour de force 10 Cloverfield Lane, but better than her unbothered Ramona in Scott Pilgrim.
CONCLUSION: It’s hard for me to judge this movie as I’ve not figured it out completely yet. Might be a great psychological drama about a total loner on a quest for love and friendship and human nearness or just a dud. And it never shows us what it is, comedy or melancholic psychological drama. But it does exactly what I ask of H-wood since quite a while: SAM takes chances. This was definately not a movie made by committee; not a single accountant had a say in filmmaking decisons … and the better for it.
WATCH IT: Yes. But please with an open mind and not in a group of drunken buddies, your sailing crew or so. SAM might end up as an underapppreciated laughing stock.
WHAT THE EXPERTS THINK:
As you can see the good Mark circumvents talking about the deeper meaning of SAM.
Unfortunately I didn’t follow Chris Stuckman’s suggestion to watch SAM twice before writing a review. But I’m really not feeling up to it. It was a bit too intense for me.
And who’d have thought: A female reviewer who gets it right! Cool girl, almost as cool as Orcsibaby. Minus the sexyness of course.