This is one of the films of the year. It is an gloriously imaginative Well I don’t know what it is. To call it a thrill-ride would be to overlook the masses of humanity the film carries in its core, and to call it a poignant drama would be to overlook the moments that left me breathless. Truth is, it is both of these things and quite a bit more.
The third instalment of the ‘Cornetto trilogy’, which includes Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, this is a film both unlike and very much akin to those two.
I was drawn in by the chemistry of the central five characters, but once the film comes to the half hour mark, you’re on your own. I found myself revelling in the sheer inventiveness of it all -rest assured, you’ve never seen anything like this before. It’s a film that reinvents itself every ten minutes, and that does sound potentially annoying (and some people will be annoyed), but for me it worked, as a single cohesive vision.
Gary King, played by Simon Pegg, is a washout. The film begins with a montage of King and his four friends, aged around 18, attempting to complete the ‘golden mile’, 12 pints at 12 pubs, in their local town of Newton Haven -they all failed. This is interesting and sets the tone completely for the film, as King is a person who never left his late teens. Now in his late 30s, and attending what we can only assume is AA meetings, he decides to round up his friends again and complete the mile. We slowly discover over the night that King is doing this to try and emulate the hope he once had as a young adult. It is very clear that his life has gone completely down the pan, and in a number of nearly depressing scenes which wouldn’t be out of place in a Mike Leigh movie, we see just how deeply his loneliness flows.
Paddy Considine, Eddie Marsan, Martin Freeman and Nick Frost as Steven, Peter, Oliver and Andrew are at first reluctant to join King as he rounds them up, but they go anyway, perhaps sensing how desperate Gary is, perhaps because they want to break out of their humdrum lives themselves -all bar Andrew, who despite being Gary’s one-time best friend, harbours a resentment that cuts very deep indeed, for reasons which also become clear throughout the evening. All their performances are superb, each character carrying their own emotional baggage, and each getting their own moment to remember them by.
But all this without mentioning the robots, that aren’t robots, because robot means slave, and these machines aren’t slaves -over a hilarious drunken conversation, the group decide to call them blanks.
Around the third or fourth pint, it becomes clear that Newton is not what it once was, and in a hilarious fight scene involving the five men, we see that it has been overrun by these blanks, who are not indestructible, but damn hard to kill, and replaceable anyway.
The rest of the film runs concurrently with the men trying to finish the mile, so as not to arouse suspicion, and also trying to not be taken over by the blanks, and decide what the blanks want to do with the world. In the mix is Rosamund Pike as Sam, a love interest for both Gary and Steven, and Pierce Brosnan, in a bizarre but hilarious cameo as the leader of the blanks.
And so the film goes, for the final hour and a bit, blending comedy, sci-fi and human drama before an satisfying ending that is as unexpected as it is wonderful. Those may be disappointed that this is, despite the tone and emotion, a different beast to the previous parts of the trilogy, and it also doesn’t send up any particular genre- aside from maybe the Douglas Adams novel, if that can be termed a genre. But then again, I’m glad for the risks the film took and the ways in which they paid off.
This is, pint for pint, one of the most interesting, complete and bizarre films I’ve seen in some time. It could have done many things wrong, but the tonal shifts are always pulled off successfully, and always seem warranted. The one-liners are uniformly superb. It is never content to sit still, and yet you sit there, absolutely transfixed. Certain scenes could have gone on forever and I wouldn’t have complained. God bless it.