film review – A Long Way Down

Somewhere in A Long Way Down is a terrific film struggling to get out. Individual parts of this adaptation of Nick Hornby’s novel are in fact great, but the movie never quite becomes the sum of its parts, because of the way the material is handled. This story, about four suicidal individuals who bond after having met each other on a London rooftop on New Year’s Eve, has a lot of potential and, at times, that potential is realized. More often than not though, this dramedy really struggles with the plot and its characters, and it can’t quite get the balance between drama and comedy right. The strange thing is: it doesn’t achieve it, because A Long Way Down is overly concerned with balance and, consequently, seems afraid to tackle serious subject matter or to commit to its heavier scenes.

Without giving anything away, here’s an example to illustrate the problem. At a point in the film a character makes a confession and that confession leads to an argument during which things get a bit ugly. You’d be right in thinking that there’s nothing wrong with such a scene in a movie like A Long Way Down, a film about people struggling with life and their emotions, but strangely director Pascal Chaumeil is of a different mind: he completely undercuts the moment by adding a frivolous tune to it, which takes every bit of built-up tension and pathos right out of it. Bad calls like this one eventually wear the film down and, coupled with plot lines that are introduced one moment and abandoned the next, these creative decisions really make it difficult to immerse yourself in a story that, in the right hands, could have been very poignant and moving in addition to being fittingly sardonic. Which, now, the film is only at a few select moments.

It’s Chaumeil’s luck though, that he has such a great cast to work with. Pierce Brosnan, Imogen Poots, Aaron Paul and Toni Collette elevate a film that struggles with tone and pace, and these actors infuse A Long Way Down with a large dose of humanity and warmth. Their performances are directly responsible for why the movies works to the extent that it does and, while Collette’s character is a bit of a cartoon at moments, these four deliver wonderfully layered performances that are in turn aggressive, self-involved, vulnerable and humble. The cast’s dynamic makes for some very moving and disarmingly charming moments and especially Poots and Paul exude a raw energy that’s hard to take your eyes off. Viewers who have seen Need For Speed know these two have great chemistry and that spark is used to full effect here: whenever their characters Jess and JJ are in a scene together the screen sizzles with electricity and intensity.

A Long Way Down is saved by its four leads, who manage to make this mediocre attempt at a dramedy watchable. 6/10

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