Swiss Army Man, written and directed by Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, is an uplifting, bizarre, tragic, silly film (in the best ways possible). This will be one of those films that might puzzle you at first, maybe even turn you off initially with its not so subtle introduction, but if you give it the time you’ll discover a film that has a lot to say and has a very weird way of approaching it all. This’ll certainly be an interesting film to review (because of how different it is) so let’s get on with it.
In ‘Swiss Army Man’ we are introduced to Hank – played by Paul Dano – a man who is stranded on a deserted island. When we first meet him, he is in the process of trying to kill himself… but when a dead body washes ashore, Manny – played by Daniel Radcliffe – Hanks chances of survival start to increase, but more importantly, his exploration of life becomes exponentially more important.
So as you can imagine there is a uniqueness to ‘Swiss Army Man’, one that certainly grabs your attention. I mean, in the first 10 minutes of the film, Hank (Paul Dano) rides Manny (Daniel Radcliffe) like a jet-ski, and what is used for propulsion? Well the escaping gas from Manny’s corpse of course (farts… its farts). I was pulled in quickly by the quirky silliness of this film, but then what I wasn’t expecting was for it to then sneak its way into my emotional receptacles and begin to make me care and connect with the two characters – one of which was a dead body.
In fact that’s perhaps one of the most ironic elements of the film; there is more life and humanity within a lifeless corpse, than there is in some films where they try to instil an emotional response from you. One of the reasons why I think this film succeeds at that is that it doesn’t force things down your throat – instead you gravitate naturally towards what is a poignant and uplifting experience.
Swiss Army Man is on for a total of 97 minutes, and in that reasonably short amount of time it is able to explore the full breadth of what it is to be human and what it is to be alive; which means it explores the good and the bad of those large themes. But it’s not all about the intricacies of being human; the film also has a wonderful sense of humour. The light-hearted humour in the film works because it doesn’t feel like it’s trying to be funny. Unlike films that label themselves as comedies (yet aren’t funny in the slightest) there is a genuineness to the jokes in this film, and they actually did something crucial to warrant their praise… they made me (and many other people in the cinema) laugh. From physical humour, to commentary on the overly complicated ways of life – ‘Swiss Army Man’ had me smiling and caring all the way through.
The film is also so creative in its presentation. I want to give some love to the art department on the film; who crafted some wonderfully rickety looking props and location set-pieces. From dioramas made out of trash which represent many facets of life, to the recreation of a bus that Hank once rode on (it makes sense in the film, trust me). There is just such a refreshingly different look to ‘Swiss Army Man’.
But it’s not only how it looks, but how it sounds. Music plays such an integral part in the film, but in a way that doesn’t immediately feel obvious. I began to look at the music and the sounds in the film as a third character – one that was ever so slightly in the background, but certainly always there. That importance also plays a big part in heightening the emotional resonance of some of the more thought-provoking or heartfelt scenes – I’ll more than likely be looking into the soundtrack for this film.
Somehow I’ve made it this far into my review without talking about the brilliant performances by Paul Dano and Daniel Radcliffe – the short version: they absolutely nail it. The detailed look: Paul Dano has been an actor that I have loved to watch since I saw him in the unforgettable ‘There Will Be Blood’. In that film he did something incredible; he matched the acting ability of Daniel Day-Lewis and the two of them where equal in their mastery of the roles. Since then I haven’t seen a bad performance from him and ‘Swiss Army Man’ is no different. With being the living portion of the film, Dano brings a lot of the visual emotion to the film, whether that’s something sweet, or something truly heart-wrenching, he brings it. Meanwhile, Daniel Radcliffe brings something completely different, and with him being a dead body, it is something really unique. I would definitely say that this is my favourite performance of his to date, and his ability to bring so much heart and so much life to someone who is no longer living is one of the biggest achievements of this film.
I had heard really mixed responses to this film; when it first appeared at Sundance, there were reports of critics walking out and even some booing. Since then the reaction from people has either been extremely positive or extremely negative, and I don’t think there is any other way to react to this film. ‘Swiss Army Man’ will either be a film you jump on board with and completely love, or it’ll be a film that is very much not for you and you’ll regret giving it the time of day – as an interesting addition to that, there was one person who I saw walk out of the cinema and never return. I think the thing that will be the most interesting to me now is hearing people’s response to the film, as to learn why someone either absolutely loved the film or absolutely hated it will definitely be an insightful conversation.
For me personally, I loved the film and will definitely be recommending it. Prepare yourself for something completely different – also, and I can’t stress this enough, be open-minded when seeing this film and let its oddness flourish.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on ‘Swiss Army Man’. So please leave any comments down below. If you’re interested in keeping up-to-date on my other ramblings then feel free to either follow this blog directly, or follow me over on Twitter – @GavinsTurtle. Thank you so much for taking the time to read my writing, it truly does mean so much to me!