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Swiss Army Man - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
Swiss Army Man
Directing: B
Acting: B+
Writing: B
Cinematography: A-
Editing: B+

I suppose a fair warning about Swiss Army Man would be that you'll see a lot of Daniel Radcliffe farting. That is, the dead guy played with amusing consistency by Daniel Radcliffe. We've all heard that people shit when they die, and this movie takes that concept and runs with it. Paul Dano, as Hank, the near-suicidal castaway who finds the body, finds some fanciful and innovative ways to make use of these farts. I won't tell you exactly how; I wouldn't want to ruin anything for you.

It's difficult to gauge what to make of a movie like this. The vast majority of it is just these two characters, and the almost shockingly unique script does an impressive job of keeping us interested, even though one of the characters is dead. Hank ultimately decides the body's name is Manny, after finding him washed up on the shore. He finds a friend, or so he thinks. Eventually Hank manages to use the body as all manner of tools, hence the movie's title. That's not a spoiler if you've seen the trailer.

Hank is clearly going out of his mind after an indeterminate but very long period of time alone on the beach and in the woods. But this movie ultimately plays with our perception of what is real and what isn't, even beyond the conceit of this body that develops its own personality. There's an establishing shot of what we see as an island at the very beginning of the film that is incongruous with where we find Hank and Manny to be in the end. That's where we get many twists of setting that are a little difficult of follow.

That said, as unique as this script is, the story arc does circle back around in ways to suggest that things really were as fantastical as they seemed. It's the kind of subtle suggestion that movies intentionally playing with perceptions of reality are wont to do. Seeing that happen so often now, there's an element of disappointment there. I'd rather get something more concrete, something that makes it easier to make sense of the movie overall. But that's just me. I suppose that's just me today. I could feel differently about it if I watched the movie at another time. It's that kind of movie, really.

It's beautifully shot, I can say that much for it. This is established from there very opening shot, just of the sea, with Hank's messages on floating contraptions drifting into frame. And then we see the land where he's living alone and in despair. The body washing up on the shore saves him. At least that's what he tells Manny.

For Paul Dano's part, he's excellent as always. Daniel Radcliffe is decent in the part of the dead guy. Radcliffe has a winning personality that takes him far in movies, but so far he hasn't proved to be an actor of the greatest depth and ability. His fame alone helps a movie like this. He clearly likes to be in on the joke: he must have gotten a kick out of all that fart stuff, which takes the story places you would never expect.

But really, when all is said and done, Swiss Army Man is just a little less than the sum of its parts. It ended and all I could think was, All right, then. This is one weird movie. Weird never automatically means bad, and it doesn't here either. There are some memorably fanciful explorations of one man's devolving mental state. I just wished it landed on something a little more straightforward, or had something clearer to say. It's just one bizarre telling of a story that's unlike any other, and it's undeniably entertaining, at least for those with a bent sense of humor. There's certainly value in that.

Paul Dano (R) uses Daniel Radcliffe as a SWISS ARMY MAN.

Overall: B
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