D: Woody Harrelson / 103m
Cast: Woody Harrelson, Owen Wilson, Eleanor Matsuura, Martin McCann, Peter Ferdinando, Zrinka Cvitešić, Al Nedjari, David Mumeni, David Avery, Amir El-Masry, Willie Nelson, Daniel Radcliffe
In 2002, Woody Harrelson was in London appearing in John Kolvenbach’s play, On an Average Day. One night, following a visit to Chinawhite, a club in Soho, Harrelson was in a taxi where he broke an ashtray. The police were called, and Harrelson, having transferred to another taxi, was subsequently chased by them before being arrested. He spent the night in jail before being bailed the following morning. This incident forms the basis for Lost in London, a reworking of the events of that night, events that begin with Harrelson getting into trouble with his wife, Laura (Matsuura), after she reads about him in the papers having partied with three strippers. Given until midnight to be by himself and think about his actions, while Laura decides what to do herself, Woody finds himself hooking up with an Arab prince (Nedjari) and his three sons and going to a nightclub. There he bumps into Owen Wilson, and an ensuing altercation between the two men leads to Woody having to leave the club suddenly, and get into the first available taxi, a decision that will prove to have far-reaching consequences…
Lost in London is notable for two reasons: it’s Harrelson’s first movie as a director (he also wrote the script as well), and it was the first – and so far only – movie to be screened in cinemas live. Necessarily playing out in real time, apart from a temporal sleight of hand towards the end, Harrelson’s debut is much more than a gimmick of a movie. Shot through with an absurdist sense of humour that feels more British than American, the movie sees Harrelson riffing on his career (often to self-deprecating effect), and his public persona at the time (drugs and booze his staple diet). He also expands on the original problem with the ashtray to include such priceless moments as “hiding” from the police at the top of a children’s slide, and Martin McCann’s sympathetic policeman’s phone call to a reggae-obsessed Bono (actually Bono). The humour in the movie ranges from the broad to the scalpel sharp to inspired to silly, and all the way back again. At the beginning, having come off stage after a less than well received performance of Long Day’s Journey Into Night, Harrelson bemoans being stuck doing serious drama. Watching Lost in London, that’s definitely not a problem.
Harrelson has assembled a great cast in support of his endeavours, with McCann and Cvitešić (as a woman he meets outside the nightclub) particularly good, while Wilson trades increasingly vicious barbs with him as they trash each other’s movies (Wilson: “You were just oozing sex appeal in Kingpin.” Harrelson: “You got out-acted by a dog in Marley & Me“). There are some serious moments as well though, caustic observations about the nature of celebrity, and the drawbacks of public perception (at one point Harrelson sings the theme song to Cheers to an unimpressed and unaware bouncer). But most of all, this is meant to make its audience laugh, and this Harrelson achieves with a great deal of skill and wit. As a technical challenge, it has to be regarded as an unalloyed success, with Nigel Willoughby’s single camera cinematography providing a sense of immediacy that, if it had been missing, would have undermined the movie completely. That it all works so well is a testament to the planning and the practice that must have gone into putting the movie together in such a way, and so confidently. It may be some time before anyone attempts such a movie again, but until then, this is a more than worthy effort all by itself.
Rating: 8/10 – having given himself a major challenge with his first feature as a director, Woody Harrelson delivers a movie that’s funny, warm-hearted, and full of indelible moments; Lost in London may stretch the format out of shape on occasion, but Harrelson has such overall control of the material that the odd mis-step now and again can easily be forgiven.