A Long Way Down
Directed by Pascal Chaumeil. Starring Aaron Paul, Pierce Brosnan, Toni Collette, Rosamund Pike, Imogen Poots, Joe Cole, Tuppence Middleton, Sam Neill. Written by Jack Thorne, from the novel by Nick Hornby.
A Long Way Down opens on New Year’s Eve, as disgraced TV personality Martin Sharp (played by Pierce Brosnan) hauls a ladder up to the top of a London high rise with the intent of jumping to his death. The ladder is used to circumvent a crevice laden with wire, and Sharp carefully navigates his way to the edge to light One Last Cigar.
But A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Suicide: Martin is interrupted in his final moments by middle-aged mother Maureen Thompson (Toni Collette), who has made her way up to the roof with the same intention. “Oh… should I… wait?” “Well… don’t just stand there and watch.” “I would like to borrow your ladder once you’re done with it…”
But before their conversation can get any more awkward, Jess Crichton (Imogen Poots), the foul-mouthed teenage daughter of a politician, comes bursting through the door in tears; she attempts to launch herself off the building before Martin and Maureen manage to physically restrain her. And hey, who’s that over there? Pizza boy JJ Maguire (Aaron Paul) just happens to be hanging out around the corner, waiting his turn to become pavement splatter.
Oh, what fun suicide can be!
The source material, from the novel of the same name by Nick Hornby (High Fidelity) seems to be subversive dark comedy. The direction, from French filmmaker Pascal Chaumeil (Heartbreaker), is ultra-lightweight: broad, bland, and slickly polished, with a vaguely comedic air, though there’s nothing resembling a joke within the script (adapted by Jack Thorne). An average car commercial has more subtext.
The result is mildly creepy, and most definitely unpleasant. During the film’s opening 10 minutes, I was vaguely disturbed that this kind of material was being handled in such adroitly commercial fashion; while I haven’t read this particular Hornby novel, I can’t imagine anything this tone-deaf coming from his pen. And it’s all downhill after that, though there’s nothing in the rest of the paint-by-numbers film that will remain in your memory after the credits have rolled.
So with the initial suicidal moment ruined, Martin – who, by the way, also happens to be a convicted pedophile (but it isn’t his fault; he didn’t know she was only 15) – Maureen, Jess, and JJ figure form a suicide pact: they’ll keep on keepin’ on until the next most popular date for suicides, Valentine’s Day. They’ll meet again in six weeks at the top of Suicide Central, knowing that then will be a perfectly acceptable time for the quartet to jump to their deaths in unison.
But will they get to know each other better during that time? And decide that maybe their lives aren’t so bad, with these newfound friends? I wouldn’t dare spoil what happens next, only to say that the painstakingly predictable script goes exactly where you think it’s going to go, beat by unending beat.
No one comes out of this thing unscathed, but Brosnan and Collette manage to scrape by with riffs on their familiar screen personas. Paul, meanwhile, has absolutely nothing to work with: his character is so completely ill-defined that the filmmakers attempt to turn the thin characterization into a plot point (his reasons for killing himself? “Uh, I dunno”). After Need for Speed and now this, the breakout star of Breaking Bad needs to get a new agent.
But it’s poor Poots, who co-starred with Paul in Need for Speed, and has been genuinely appealing in supporting roles in Filth, A Late Quartet, and elsewhere, who comes off the worst: as the spoiled brat who doesn’t know how to keep her mouth shut, her performance is one of the most nails-on-chalkboard annoying turns I’ve seen in quite some time. Sam Neill shows up in a few scenes as her father.
Shamelessly cloying, so misguided and vacuous it made me want to scream, A Long Way Down is an unusually bad test of your patience that is bound to induce squirms; indeed, there were a few walkouts and audible groans throughout a press screening at Lucerna. You’ve been warned.