Ever since I heard about this film, I’ve been very excited to see it, having never heard of any film like it. Describing the set-up for the film, a friendship between two people, one of which is a farting corpse that can do almost anything played by Daniel Radcliffe, makes you sound as if you’ve taken some very strong drugs but the idea of seeing something so offbeat and original as this made me very excited. It has been a bit difficult to watch seeing as there have only been 2 screenings of the film in Birmingham but I was lucky enough to get to one of those screenings, and I have to say the film surpassed my expectations.
The film focuses on Hank, a man who was stranded on a desert island, about to kill himself when he sees a corpse on the beach. After seeing that the corpse’s flatulence propel it across the beach, Hank uses it as a jetski to escape the island, getting onto the mainland but finding himself far from civilisation. Hank later discovers other uses for the corpse, including as a water reservoir, a machine gun and a compass (using the power of boners), the corpse ending up talking to Hank, taking the name Manny, later falling in love with a women whose picture Hank has on his phone. Now the plot of the film is completely insane, the whole idea of a talking corpse with special powers is completely bonkers and the film knows it. There are numerous parts of the film which take advantage of the insane nature of the plot to mess around with our understanding of the characters, most notably in the nature of Manny himself. It is never made fully clear if Manny really is being brought back to life and is really talking to Hank or whether it’s a hallucination by Hank brought about by starvation and loneliness. There is a sweetness at the heart of the friendship between Hank and Manny though. It’s made clear throughout the film that Hank is a really lonely person, his shyness and overall demeanour making it hard for him to interact with other people and through Manny, Hank is able to have a true friend for the first time, even if he is a corpse. The scenes where Hank and Manny bond over music (mainly Cotton Eye Joe and the Jurassic Park theme), magazines, talk about masturbation and Hank showing Manny what life is like are really sweet and engaging to watch, making the friendship between the two feel real. It never forgets how creepy and depressing this whole thing would be in real life though, especially at the end of the film, which I won’t spoil here, mainly related to Hank’s dad and Sarah, the woman Hank has a picture of on his phone.
The main reason why the film works as well as it does on a dramatic level is due to the performances. Paul Dano continues his run of excellent films as Hank, brilliantly showing the loneliness of Hank and how he ended up the way he did, but also the friendliness of the character. His reactions to seeing Manny talk for the first time are completely believable, along with the growing friendship between the two. His performance at the end of the film though is the best aspect though, which I won’t spoil here. Daniel Radcliffe meanwhile takes a character that sounds like a joke and fills him with, for lack of a better term, life, despite playing a corpse. The way in which Manny starts to understand and appreciate life is genuinely sweet as delivered by Radcliffe, the delivery of the dialogue fits how you would imagine a corpse to speak and bits at the end when the true nature of what he’s experiencing and his view of the world is exposed is some of the best acting that Daniel Radcliffe has done. Whilst she only has a small role, Mary Elizabeth Winstead is very compelling in her few scenes, fitting the idealised version of the character that Hank and Manny see physically whilst when we see her, showing a real person, far removed from the fantasy that Hank and Manny have of her, her reactions to everything she sees being very believable.
On a technical level the film is very impressive, mainly in the dummy’s, CG and make-up used to create Manny in conjunction with Daniel Radcliffe’s performance. All of these aspects line up brilliantly to create the most believable form of a corpse with those powers that you can think of. The music adds to the overall atmosphere of the film, the a capella music in the film fitting really nicely with the location work, the whole thing feeling like the music Hank and Manny themselves hear in their heads and sing to each other (aided by Paul Dano and Daniel Radcliffe singing as part of the score, notably, again, the Jurassic Park theme and Cotton Eye Joe). The production design of what Hank and Manny create in the forest is excellent, everything looking authentically like things you would find lying around in a forest whilst also adding to the overall sweetness of the friendship and the isolation Hank feels, especially at the end of the film.
Overall, Swiss Army Man is one of the most unique films that you will see this year. It does a great job at playing around with what you see, questioning everything, especially at the end, whilst also making a friendship between a man and a farting corpse one of the most genuine, sweetest friendships of the year, mainly due to the strong writing and the excellent performances from Paul Dano and Daniel Radcliffe.
My Rating: 5/5