SWISS ARMY MAN (USA/Club/97mins)
Directed by Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert. Starring Paul Dano, Daniel Radcliffe, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Shane Carruth, Richard Gross
THE PLOT: Alone on an island after a shipwreck, Hank (Paul Dano) has given up hope and is trying to hang himself when he sees a body on the beach. Although the man – who Hank christens Manny (Daniel Radcliffe) is dead – Hank soon sees a benefit from his new companion; his constant flatulence. As Hank tries to get home, and strikes up a strange friendship with Manny, he explores life, love and his relationships.
THE VERDICT: If you have heard of ‘Swiss Army Man’, then chances are you have heard that Daniel Radcliffe plays a farting corpse. While this is strictly true, there is a lot more to the film, including a surprising warmth and sweetness, buried underneath the film’s downright oddness, which is wears openly on its sleeve.
Paul Dano leads the cast as Hank. All we know about the character is that he was washed up on the island during a storm, and has had enough of life without company or food. Through his relationship with Manny – which is admittedly all in his head – the audience learns more about this character, why there doesn’t seem to be a search party out for him, and his views on life and love. Daniel Radcliffe makes the flatulent Manny a combination of a friend, multi-tool and tabula rasa for Hank to pour his ideals into. Manny gets most of the smiles throughout the film – there are no outright laughs, unless you find farts hilarious – and his character becomes gentle and childlike with a strong sense of loyalty. Both performances in the film are wonderful and they compliment one another incredibly well. The rest of the cast features Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Shane Carruth and Richard Gross.
Writer/directors Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert – credited as Daniels – have taken an incredibly odd premise, kept it weird, but somehow managed to make it a touching bromance, adventure tale and existential exploration. The dialogue is smart and often raises a wry smile from the audience, and there is plenty of warmth and heart in the film. It is easy to see why more delicate audiences could be turned off, since there is a lot of discussion of poop, masturbation, erections and flatulence, but there is a warm and gentle heart at the centre of ‘Swiss Army Man’, which is in some ways, unexpected.
As directors, Kwan and Schienert keep the film moving at a decent pace, and keep the mystery of Hank’s stranding to themselves, in order to keep the film engaging. It would be easy to stay superficial on such an odd film, and dismiss it out of hand, but there is a lot to explore here, such as the nature of mental health, survival and the day dreams that get us through those long and dull afternoons. The performances from the two leads are superb, although it all goes to hell once civilisation begins to creep in.
In all,’ Swiss Army Man is a rare’, weird and charming delight. The two leads are strong in their sublimely bizarre roles, the story is touching but it all falls apart in the final 10 minutes, leaving the film feeling rather unfinished and let down by its ending.
RATING: 4/5
Review by Brogen Hayes

  • filmbuff2011

    It’s finally here… After months of advance word about a strange little film shown at Sundance, Swiss Army Man has arrived on Irish shores. Powered by bodily gas no doubt, for this is a film whose plot almost defies description. But here goes…

    Hank (Paul Dano) wakes up on a desert island, stranded and without hope of survival. He decides to hang himself, but botches it when distracted by the presence of another human being. Well, the corpse of a dead young man (Daniel Radcliffe) which keeps farting. So, using the power of these farts, he rides the corpse off the desert island like a jet ski. As you do. Once they reach shore, Hank finds that the corpse has many uses, like a Swiss Army Knife – it can produce potable water, its erection acts as a GPS and it can also be used like a machine gun to find food. When the corpse comes back to life and starts talking, he dubs it Manny. The duo survive in the woods together, trying to make their way back to civilization. With no memory of the world, Manny learns what it means to be human again, to know love, friendship, fun and companionship. But what will the world make of them?

    The directorial debuts of two Daniels, Kwan and Scheinert, is a true original. Their script is really out there and requires an open mind to go along with its wacky tale of a friendship found in unlikely circumstances. Those who walk out after the bizarre opening sequence are missing the whole point of the film (then again, why did they buy a ticket in the first place?). Stick with it though and the story balances out to become a really sweet story of two lost souls bonding over Jurassic Park, stories about meeting girls and the family life they once had. It’s not an easy film to like at first. However, it soon grows on you, like the oddball film that you need every now and then to restore your faith in original thinking in the film industry.

    Frankly, a story this off-kilter couldn’t work without great performances to drive it. Dano has played sad-sack characters before, but he finds new depths and range in characterising Hank. One of the saddest aspects of Hank’s story involves a girl (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) whose photo he has as his phone wallpaper. Their offscreen relationship speaks volumes about the need for connectivity in our connected world. Radcliffe is the real surprise here though. Putting away those rumours that he was only playing a farting corpse, he gives a lively (in more ways than one) performance that is unshowy and devoid of actorly concerns about image perception. He continues to show what a fine actor he is by constantly challenging himself and moving well out of the shadow of a certain boy wizard.

    Beyond the weirdness, some elements of the story do stretch credulity, like a smartphone lasting several days on 10% battery. Even when switched on and off, it wouldn’t last very long. That must be some battery. The two Daniels and the other Daniel really deserve to be congratulated for taking a very out-there story and making it come to life and be a celebration of life itself. This reviewer was teetering on the edge of giving it three stars, but ultimately felt that it deserves four for the sheer ballsiness of the concept and its execution. Open your mind and you might just find it life-affirming… or maybe the strangest and most original film of the year. ****