Tuesday, September 9, 2014


A guy walks into a bar and says to the bartender' "I've got the best story you've ever heard". The bartender bets the guy a bottle of decent scotch that it won't be . The guy begins: "Well, when I was a little girl..."

We already know that the bartender is a time travelling agent on the trail of the infamous Fizzle Bomber whose 911-like atrocity is (in the guy-walks-into-a-bar time) soon to take place. Could he have his man here? Is he recruiting from the down and out who have no ties and nothing to lose? Well, it's complicated.

I already knew this new piece from the Spierig brothers was based on a mind bending short story I'd already read. It's an easy read by virtue of its length but it does make your head spin and, despite all the author's influential novels, I'd call it his masterpiece? Author? Title? Even that much would spoil this film. See it and check the credits for the story. But then read the story.

So what is there to say if I can't spoil this extremely spoilable movie?

It's two central performances by Ethan Hawke and Sara Snook give good gravity to this tale which, if played a hair below seriousness, might easily collapse in the first act. Snook brings a cold loneliness to her character, sustained through some sizeable changes. Hawke's isolation has more padded assurance but his thousand kilometre stare when alone shows inescapable pain. Without these neural fields buzzing this film would be just a cool idea. The short story, similarly remembers to go beyond the brain-tearing central conceit and deliver a big boomy sadness. It's the weakness that makes it strong.

The various time periods are expressed by pallette as well as decor and costume; brown 70s bar, Kodak-bright 60s colour etc. This is good show-not-tell and the dialogue extraneous to the pretty strictly adhered bar-room exchanges of the short story is kept light so that much is expressed without spoken exposition. I appreciate this feather touch with the necessary expansive material as it allows some weighty thinking in through what always feels quite breezy. The only time this is compromised is in the closing scenes where too much is explained. The notion at the heart of this story is a fragile one, for all its power, and would be better served by the trust in the audience we began with. It doesn't ruin the film, by any means (the Spierigs are going from strength to strength: may they work long and prosper) but a few lessons in restraint from the oft recalled 70s might have gone a long way.

A vote for Peter Spierig's score should be recorded here: a fine mix of orchestral and electronic is kept to supporting the energy rather than overwhelming it. Always a pleasure.

This film about balancing what can change you with what you can change is a sustained howl we all have loosed at some time. It's fitting that this time an approach that involves an educated retrograde approach recollects the special feeling of sci-fi's great eras (late 60s, early 70s, early 80s). Hang the over-explained ending, this movie feels like something.Yeah, that'll do. It feels like something the way that Blade Runner, Liquid Sky and The Quiet Earth felt like something: seamlessly produced or gaffer taped together, you've just seen a movie. That's more than I can say for most of what I've seen this year.

See it. And read the story. In that order.

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