There are just few authors who can claim that their novels translate successfully to the big screen. Childrens stories such as Harry Potter , Twilight and The Hunger Games have been hugely profitable on the screen. Adult fiction is a bit more hit and miss. The British author Nick Hornby has a good track record to date. Several of his novels have been tailored for the screen and been met with both critical and commercial success. The latest to be making the transition is the suicide comedy drama A Long Way Down.
Apparently New Year’s Eve is one of those days. For many, it is a celebration of the year gone by and the promise of a new adventure and a new start. For others, like the protagonists in the film, it is a time which marks the point where there is nothing to move forward to. Death is the only answer. Martin (Pierce Brosnan) is one such soul. A former daytime TV star, who was involved in the sex scandal which resulted in a custodial sentence, is set on killing himself by throwing himself off the top of a high rise. Just as he is about to jump he is interrupted by Maureen (Toni Collette) Who has the same idea as Martin. Almost immediately they are interrupted by Jess (Imogen Poots), again with the similar idea. Last to arrive is J. (Aaron Paul), a pizza delivery man who has decided on his own topping (sorry!). They talk each other out of jumping and all sign a pact to stay alive until at least Valentine’s Day. When the press gets wind of the goings on it turns out that Jess Is the daughter of a top politician. A media frenzy ensues and the foursome tries to take command of the situation with predictable results.
The film consists of four distinct parts nominally told from the perspective of one of the main characters. This involves a brief monologue which leads into the continuing story. It develops the individual characters within the story and gives an insight to their motives and actions. What it doesn’t do is give any of them a softer tone. We are dealing with death at ones own hand here and we are never allowed to forget that.
The lead actor is obviously Peirce Brosnan in the role of Martin. His character is deeply unsympathetic. He exhibits all the traits you have now come to expect from a television talk show host. His arrogance and narcissism shine through on Brosnan’s performance. It is a testament to his skills that there are no softer elements added to make Martin more palatable. What we get is the essence of a shallow man at the end of his tether who is taking the most selfish way out. Throughout the film, he is given an opportunity to redeem himself but seems incapable of taking the first step. It leaves little for the audience to like about him and the choices Brosnan makes enable the personality to develop very well.
The opposite can be said for Maureen. She has reason to want to escape. Her adult son is physically disabled and she has been the principal care giver for all of his life. Her reasons for suicide are slightly more selfless as her son would then be granted full-time support which she is finding increasingly difficult to cope with. She does not have any life outside of this and feels worthless. Hers is the strongest voice of the quartet. The performance comes across as naturalistic and heartfelt in a role that could very easily become a movie of the week cliche.
To be candid the other two roles are not so well drawn out. They are granted equal screen time but do not come over as well. It is a little too obvious how these personalities develop and although portrayed well, they do not have the same appeal as the other two leads.
Suicide is no easy subject to base a nominally comedic film on. A balance has to be struck between entertaining and informing. The film is able to achieve this with slightly toned down performances and a grounding in reality. The situations the cast finds themselves in feel natural. What particularly comes across well is the way that media is portrayed in the film. After news comes out that a couple of minor celebrities are involved, their plight turns into a media circus. The lack of sensitivity is all too real as both print and TV journalists strive for the best angle for their story.
This will not be remembered as a high (or low) point in the career of anyone involved, but it is certainly worth ninety minutes of your time. Recommended.