If you’re a filmmaker and you make a really weird and out there movie, it’s safe to say that you will probably get a positive reaction from me. I just really love the odd and quirky films; they pretty much occupy most of the spots on my favorite films list. There’s just something about films that go out on a limb and try something completely different and outside the box that really gravitates me to it and immediately gets pulled into my weird wheelhouse. As I mature more and more as a film critic, and with all the films I take in within a week, month or year, this is a trait of mine that hasn’t changed. I have an affinity to love the unloved, misunderstood and downright questioned films and I’m more than alright with that. You can saddle me with being that guy and Swiss Army Man is a film that will keep the tradition alive.
One of those films without a grey area in how it’s received, Swiss Army Man is like nothing you’ve seen before, neither in it’s synopsis, it’s trailer or the actual film itself. This film stands alone and dares to be insanely different. First time feature directors Daniel Scheinert and Dan Kwan, billed in this movie as Daniels, have a lengthy career of short films and notable music videos for bands like Foster The People, The Shins, Chromeo and the mighty Tenacious D. Now they look to twist people’s minds with a film that can be viewed as darkly optimistic at times and a bit enlightening, especially to yours truly.
Swiss Army Man starts with Hank (Paul Dano), a man stranded on a beach, having just given up on any sort of rescue attempt. As he tries to hang himself, he sees a man (Daniel Radcliffe) lying on the beach. Hank’s noose snaps and he falls to the ground, scrambling to get to this new potential companion but when Hank starts to inspect him he sees that it’s a dead body. Upon pushing on the body, the man starts to fart profusely, giving Hank to insane idea to ride the man’s body like a jet ski to civilization. Look, I told you this film was crazy. Stay with me now.
Hank’s plan isn’t exactly a sound one, as he loses his grip on the body and is thrown off into the water only to wake up again back on the beach with the dead body next to him. Seeing usefulness in the body and really just wanting someone or something to talk to, Hank carries the body on his back with him as he strikes out to find rescue with a kind of renewed vigor. Oddly enough, the body starts to become increasingly useful to Hank and then does something completely unexpected. It starts to talk. Hank renames the body Manny, who, in his apparent resurrection, seems to be a blank slate in need of Hank’s life teachings. Together as they continue their journey to safety, a bond forms between these two that will change Hank forever.
Daniels craft a film that is both completely crazy in it’s scope but absolutely gorgeous in every single way. Each shot is exquisitely interesting with odd angles and play with the lighting giving it an almost ethereal feeling that see wonder at intervals, is this actually real? This very original creative team is thoroughly dedicated to how much they want to immerse their audience in this oddness and it’s something that I think a large portion of people will be turned off by within the first fifteen minutes. Those that are rapt by this story will feel the reward of this movie, as I did.
Paul Dano continues to become one of the best working actors today, showing how versatile he can be. I seriously believe that he is within five years of an Academy Award win and I would even go as far as saying that Swiss Army Man is award worthy for both him and Radcliffe. The former Harry Potter actor has seemed to distance himself nicely from the franchise with films like Horns but it is this movie that makes that divide very known. Love or hate Swiss Army Man, the caliber of these two actors playing off each other for most of the roughly ninety minute runtime is palpable and shows the veteran knowledge of both.
One thing that struck me about Swiss Army Man was it’s unwavering optimism which comes off as endearing, especially given that it’s source is a character that, at the beginning of the film, was going to off himself because he couldn’t feel his place in the world. Only through his life teachings to the newly reanimated Manny, he’s able to see the real beauty of the world he left behind. At first it seems he does it to give a reason for Manny to stick around for companionship but at a certain point he really seems to be drinking his own happy “kool-aid” and, in turn, might actually be the thing that saves him.
I know I’ve probably pulled a lot more out of Swiss Army Man than a lot of other people would and it’s a film I’m still taking things away from, but, like I said, my movie loves are a bit off that regularly strolled path. From my times at the video store, I’ve learned my lesson to not recommend films that, on the outside, are very inaccessible for a lot of people. I’ve deterred many a customer from ever asking me about what’s good and for that reason I implore you to know what you’re getting into with this one. The “Ooh, Harry Potter is in this one” crowd will be seriously unhappy with this film and probably will come away a little disturbed. I, on the other hand, think this is one of 2016’s best and give it a five out of five.