Thursday, 10 October 2019
If You Like
USA 2019 By Justin Benson & Aaron Moorhead
London Film Festival 2019 screening Tuesday 8th October
Okay... so the fourth film in my London Film Festival itinerary this year was a new restoration of Sweet Charity, which was still brilliant although I do have some misgivings about the restoration job on it. If you want to read my old review of this movie, comparing it to Fellini’s original masterpiece Nights Of Cabiria, you can do so here.
My fifth film of this year’s festival was Synchronic, which is the latest of four feature films written and directed by the collaborative team that is Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead and... it’s pretty amazing, truth be told. I’ve reviewed their previous films relatively recently on this blog and you can read reviews of Resolution, Spring and The Endless by clicking on the titles in this sentence. Of their works, my favourite is still Spring but, truth be told, Synchronic runs it a very close second and it even has some ‘A’ list Hollywood actors in this one so, I think the Benson and Moorhead duet’s star is definitely on the rise. This one isn’t, like The Endless, another sideways sequel to their first feature, which is a good thing... it does, however, share some of the same concerns as that but filtered through a much more different plot device.
In fact, this one seems to be just the kind of story that Philip K. Dick would have written and, although it’s not in any way cribbed from his work, I think it’s a perfect tonal fit and it might be one of the best PKD movies which has nothing to do with him out there. And I say that as a measure of just how good this story is and how brilliant the execution of the plot is, rather than as any kind of detrimental side swipe. This movie is phenomenal. So, okay... let me get to a brief plot set up for you.
The film stars Jamie Dornan as Dennis and Anthony Mackie as Steve, two paramedics who have formed a curious, hard edged friendship from their journeys into darkness with each other, coping with patients, often in bad shape, some of whom die on them on, presumably, a daily basis. However, just recently, the two have been coming across a lot of dead, dying or injured people who are spaced out on a new designer drug called Synchronic. They are... and this slowly dawns on Anthony Mackie’s character who the film shifts focus on for about two thirds of the story... finding things anachronistic to the people they are trying to help. Like ancient swords or other strange anomalies which their injured ‘customers’ have supposedly been assaulted with.
Meanwhile, two other things which make the story points blossom are occurring... one is that Steve is dying of a brain tumour, which is making his pineal gland more flexible, like it would be in a teenager... and the other thing is that Dennis’ teenage kid Brianna (played by Ally Ioannides) has disappeared after she is suspected to have taken a dose of Synchronic. As the story develops, however, and Steve finds out more about the drug and takes some himself, he undergoes some strange experiences... which I won’t spoil for you here... which equip him with the means and knowledge to have a good go at getting Dennis’ daughter back. Needless to say, after a series of very entertaining experiments with the drug which effects Steve in a similar way to teenagers, due to the state of his pineal gland, he is able to make an attempt to rescue Brianna and hopefully, save the day.
The performances in this are all superb... especially the three main actors I’ve already pointed out. I’ve especially had my eye on Mackie since I first noticed him in The Adjustment Bureau (reviewed here). I loved him as The Falcon in the all the recent Marvel movies but he really shows he can carry the majority of a film here and he is extra impressive when given a good script (which he has been on this one). I really felt for his character and, also, the characters brought to life from the page by Dornan and Ioannides... this one’s a good three hander, for sure.
Because, like pretty much all of Benson and Moorhead’s work, this story deals with a fantastic concept at it’s heart, it’s important to make the movie feel as credible as possible, so the way this is written and the performances of the lines really help you believe in the relationships at the heart of the film and everyone really knocks it out of the park in terms of that. So when really unbelievable stuff starts happening to Steve, the audience doesn’t need to take the fantasy element of the plot, which is in no way subtle, with too much of a pinch of salt. The incredible is subtly made credible with just a bit of a wink to the audience to suspend their disbelief here. I was, as you can perhaps tell, really impressed with the way the directors handle things here.
I was also impressed with how emotionally involved I was with the characters. One character in particular, other than the daughter, gets lost... not killed, just lost (although that kinda means the same thing here but, again, I’m not going to explain that comment if you haven’t seen it)... in the process of Steve’s search for knowledge of the drug he is dealing with and I really felt that loss. My one disappointment was at the very end... there’s a hugely suspenseful moment where one of the characters is in the process of leaving the frame in a particular fashion and I was desperately hoping they wouldn’t. Well, okay, that seems about right because it turns out that’s what happens after all but... I’m guessing it would have made for a much stronger ending if that wasn’t the case and I hadn’t got my wish. That being said, there's a nice Back To The Future reference at one point in the film in terms of some stuff that's going on and the name of Steve's dog... so I can live with a marginally happyish ending.
That ending is about the only element of the film that did give me pause for thought though so, once again, I am patting my back on somehow choosing six film at this year’s festival with not a dud among them. Synchronic is an absolutely brilliant movie... perhaps not as original as people may expect (what is these days?) but certainly one of the best at capturing a certain kind of science fiction which doesn’t get a chance to shine as much as it perhaps should. I’m really hoping for a Blu Ray release of this one because I would quite like to revisit this movie sometime soon. One for the ages... so to speak.
My review of the next Festival film I saw, Richard Stanley’s Colour Out Of Space, should be up in a few days.