Being stranded on a deserted island leaves young Hank (Paul Dano) bored, lonely and without hope. As a rope hangs around his neck and he prepares to end it all a man (Daniel Radcliffe) washes up on the shore. Unfortunately, he is dead and quite flatulent. Using the gassy body to his advantage, Hank miraculously makes it back to the mainland. However, he now finds himself lost in the wilderness and dragging the talking corpse named Manny along for the adventure.
Paul Dano mounting an incredibly flatulent Daniel Radcliffe and using the power of his gaseous emissions to zoom across the ocean waves is perhaps the strangest thing you’re likely to see on the cinema screen this year. At least it is until Radcliffe’s Manny – who, incidentally, is dead – sports an erection that also acts as a compass to guide Dano’s Hank home. And if that sounds like a skit put on by a couple of stoners at a low-end drama school, you’re bang on the money. But this can also be seen as a rather sweet, extremely well-made piece of whimsy that may enchant, so long as you’re in the right mood.
The casting is spot-on, with Dano able to portray a character like the innocent, lost Hank in his sleep. Stranded on a desert island, he has decided to end it all and is about to take a long swing from a short rope when Manny is washed up in front of him. As Manny, the corpse who slowly becomes more alive, Radcliffe finally proves his acting chops, ditching the rather earnest, please-like-me demeanour he usually displays for something far more affecting. There is even talk of an Oscar nod come next year, quite a feat and journey for someone who last played a famous boy wizard only five years ago.
Get past the fact you’re watching a two-hander, with one hand belonging to a necrotic dead man somehow bestowed with powers enabling him to act as a jet ski, chop trees and fire grappling hooks and other projectiles from his mouth, and there are elements to enjoy here. But some, indeed many, will simply not be able to accept such a mad premise to begin with.
Beautifully shot and expertly edited, Swiss Army Man has the (required and expected) indie soundtrack and is the feature debut of directors Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert (collectively known as The Daniels). Together with the presence of (third Daniel) Radcliffe – who’s been throwing himself into virtually anything and everything post-Potter that can distance himself from the role that made him famous, even going as far as posing as a neo-Nazi earlier this year – it’s thus hard not to see this as a calling-card, a raising of a flag to mark out the skill and potential of the three for future projects. And having subject matter sure to generate many column inches, both fair and foul, has certainly done no harm in terms of publicity.
That may be a bit of a cynical take on Swiss Army Man but this is a film that will divide opinion right down the line. Canvass the view of someone who’s wandered into their local theatre after a couple of beers and was expecting a sort of Weekend at Bernie’s reboot and you’ll likely get an earful but conversely, the indie crowd will lap this up.
Ultimately, and regardless of whether you fall into the love or hate camp, we should all be grateful that films like this exist. Even if you never have any intention of seeing it. And it is exceptionally well made. But that’s also pretty much damning the actual viewing experience with faint praise. For while you may be taken with the film at the time (or, indeed, not), it doesn’t sit well after, rather coming off as a rather indulgent piece that the makers and principles thought an absolute hoot at the time. Quite literally, it is the most arty-farty movie ever committed to film. And for the record, it is also nothing like Weekend at Bernie’s, nor as funny.