D: Pascal Chaumeil / 96m
Cast: Pierce Brosnan, Toni Collette, Imogen Poots, Aaron Paul, Sam Neill, Rosamund Pike, Tuppence Middleton, Joe Cole, Leo Bill, Josef Altin
On New Year’s Eve, four very different people find themselves on the roof of a London tower block, and all with the same idea: to commit suicide. There’s disgraced TV celebrity Martin (Brosnan), shy, apologetic Maureen (Collette), politician’s daughter Jess (Poots), and pizza delivery guy JJ (Paul). With all of them unable to go through with their plans (and each actively stopping the rest from jumping), the quartet decide to make a pact: that none of them will try to kill themselves until Valentine’s Day. Later that night, Jess accidentally O.D.’s in a club; with the aid of Jess’s boyfriend, Chas (Cole), the others get her to hospital. News of their attempted suicides reaches the press and they all become minor celebrities. Martin suggests they use the attention to make some money, and they take part in interviews, and talk shows. When one talk show appearance goes wrong, the four decide to go away together on holiday.
The trip proves to be yet another disaster, with JJ unknowingly befriending a journalist (Middleton) and further tensions arise when he also reveals something about himself that only Jess knows (and has kept to herself). The group return to London and go their separate ways (though each in their own way keeps tabs on the others, except for JJ). As Valentine’s Day draws near, JJ vanishes. On the day itself, the others find him back on the roof of the tower block, and ready to kill himself.
Adapted from the novel by Nick Hornby, A Long Way Down takes a serious subject and uses it as the springboard for a sporadically dramatic, essentially lightweight comedy that never quite fires on all cylinders, and has enough awkward moments for two movies, let alone one. The problems lie in the characters themselves. Martin’s back story includes time in prison for sleeping inadvertently with a fifteen year old girl, and this is treated largely as an excuse for amusement, with Brosnan mugging for all he’s worth when the subject is brought up. Maureen has a severely disabled son, Matty (Altin) that she no longer feels she can support adequately, but it’s obvious that she has a really good support network around her so the dramatic elements of her situation never really ring true. Jess is almost a caricature of every wild child and rebellious daughter of an establishment figure you’re ever likely to encounter, and her sadness over the disappearance of her sister is briefly explored and then forgotten. As for JJ, his character is the most maddening of them all, with his failed musical background and resulting depression proving hard to sympathise with, or appreciate.
While the movie works hard to flesh out these characters, and make their individual problems worthy of our concern, it’s unable to do so by virtue of their predicament being too artificial for its own good. At no time in the movie do you really feel that any one of these disparate people really, truly wants to kill themselves, and so any drama in the two rooftop sequences that bookend the movie is immediately eliminated. And as mentioned above, their individual dilemmas, particularly Martin’s, don’t hold the attention as well, or as much, as they should. This all leaves the movie lurching from one lacklustre scene to another, its attempts at humour proving occasionally successful, its dramatic approach having no bite, and its supporting characters – from Jess’s dad (Neill) to Pike’s deliberately insensitive talk show host – endorsing the view that the main four characters aren’t that interesting.
As a result, it’s fitting that the performances are as equally uninspired as the movie itself. Brosnan plays Martin as a bit of a buffoon, good-natured but with an often spectacular misunderstanding of the people around him, his unfortunate “indiscretion” treated like a minor inconvenience blown out of all proportion. Brosnan’s an accomplished actor but here he seems unable to get to grips with such a poorly crafted character. Collette has the least showy role, and fares better than the rest, her understated performance as Maureen the nearest the movie gets to providing someone for the audience to relate to; her scenes with Altin are genuinely affecting, but belong in a different movie. Poots plays Jess as a whirling dervish, snappy and borderline obnoxious, her quieter scenes more convincing than the ones where she’s supposed to be the challenging anti-establishment rebel. Paul, meanwhile – the predictably token American in the cast – does his best with a role that becomes more and more important as the movie goes on, but he can’t overcome the clumsy way in which JJ is written.
There’s a better movie to be made here, and while it’s clear the material is a challenge, A Long Way Down doesn’t even attempt to play up the more darkly humorous aspects of the group’s situation or elevate the drama inherent in such a premise. The movie seems determined not to make things too uncomfortable for the audience, to play things down to make them more palatable (and presumably, more box office friendly). It’s an obvious decision on the part of the producers (unfortunately) but it doesn’t help the movie at all.
Rating: 5/10 – not as dramatic or as funny as it looks, A Long Way Down struggles to be as emotionally involving as it should be; with no one to connect with, the movie loses focus early on and never really recovers, leaving its characters to stumble on until the movie’s predictably feel good ending.