Review: A Long Way Down
PLOT: Martin was once a popular TV host, yet after finding himself involved in a sex scandal he decides to end his life. It’s New Year’s Eve and he makes his way atop of a building to take one last leap. Once there, he finds three other people looking to do the same. Instead, the four begin to form a strange bond that may just pull them out of their misery.
A LONG WAY DOWN is an unusual comedy. Four strangers, each planning on ending their life on New Year’s Eve, make each others acquaintance on the top of a building where they plan to jump. After a strange bit of conversation and a little connection, they find themselves empathizing with each other. Soon they make a pact that they will not try and kill themselves before Valentine’s Day. The strange thing is that this is not nearly as morbid as one would expect. The idea of connecting with others who have gone through the same experience is not uncommon and while it may take some time getting there, there is some charm in this offbeat tale.
Martin (Pierce Brosnan) is having a horrific time after he inadvertently found himself in a sexual encounter with a minor. The one time successful television host watched his life crumble as he was completely unaware on the girl’s age. Giving up, he decides to go to one of the tallest buildings in the city and jump off. Unfortunately for him, he is not the only one with such a dire holiday plan. Maureen (Toni Collette), Jess (Imogen Poots) and JJ (Aaron Paul) have all come to the same spot to do the deed. After the four argue and converse about their reasons for being there, they end up spending New Year’s together ultimately making a strange pact. When the news of their pact begins attracting press and making headlines, it creates something bigger than any of them had anticipated.
The complex and emotional aspect of four miserable souls is handled delicately, in fact overtly so. The first half of A LONG WAY DOWN certainly presents an intriguing concept yet in a lighthearted manner. Director Pascal Chaumeil and writer Jack Thorne – adapted from the novel by Nick Hornby – avoid delving into the dark subject matter to a fault. From pedophilia to suicide to abandoning your handicapped child, the careful humor sidesteps the uncomfortable nature of these serious subjects. It isn’t until the last half where the weights of these issues are felt – even if it is treated in an exceedingly sentimental fashion.
Part of the problem is the haphazard way they focus on one character for a short period of time to reveal what led to their misery. The story begins with Martin then shifts not so effortlessly to Maureen or Jess. It is an uneven balance that lessens the impact until their stories collide with one another. The idea of presenting the foursome through each one is simply jumbled storytelling. This narrative could have been more effective if it was an even balance or if it had been on a single characters viewpoint throughout.
Performance wise is where A LONG WAY DOWN shines. Brosnan is solid as a man facing challenging issues in his life. The charismatic Aaron Paul is also very good as the most mysterious of the four. Yet it is both Collette and Poots who give the most dynamic and memorable turns. Imogen – who recently proved to have a little bit of chemistry with Paul in NEED FOR SPEED – makes the wildly eccentric Jess a truthful and passionate character. Collette plays a loving mother lost in misery with such sincerity and heart that it is impossible not to feel for her. The moments where she is taking care of her disabled son, especially near the end, is intensely heartfelt.
While A LONG WAY DOWN is a long way from great, the winning performances from the talented cast help create an occasionally effective story. Had the filmmakers taken a few more chances with the already grim happenings it may have been a more poignant feature. Instead, they safely maneuver through controversial material instead of taking a chance or two. The cast is able to give life to what could have been a brilliantly bleak comedy. However it is ultimately a mediocre footnote in each of their careers.