Directed by: Pascal Chaumeil
Premise: On New Year’s Eve, four strangers meet on a rooftop, each of them planning to jump to their deaths. The four talk each other out of suicide and agree to stay alive until Valentine’s Day. When the news media publicizes their pact, the group becomes famous.
What Works: A Long Way Down gives four very good actors a chance to showcase their skills and each of them contributes a lot to the movie. Pierce Brosnan plays a disgraced television news anchor and Brosnan is well suited to the role. He brings the arrogance that he’s often played but the egomania is offset by moments of compassion. Imogen Poots is cast as a free spirited young woman and Poots is an animated presence, frequently adding a lot of energy to dialogue-heavy scenes and delivering acerbic comic relief. Like Brosnan, Poots is also able to set aside the snark and reveal the human struggles that are concealed by her character’s wit. The cast of A Long Way Down also includes Aaron Paul as a former musician turned pizza delivery driver and although he is given the least to work with, Paul is able to make something out of the role and of all the characters his suicide story is the most compelling. Of the main characters and their backstories, the most interesting and watchable is Toni Collette as a single mother of a disabled young man. Why she would want to commit suicide when her son depends on her is unclear but the scenes of Collette’s character caring for her son are some of the best parts of the movie and would have potentially made for a compelling film in its own right.
What Doesn’t: A Long Way Down was adapted from a novel by Nick Hornby and the film’s literary source becomes apparent in some of the shortcomings of the film. The process of adapting prose to cinema isn’t entirely successful. The picture is divided into sections, with each part emphasizing one of the lead characters and providing his or her thoughts in voiceover. These shifts in perspective might have worked better in the literary form. The filmmakers don’t do enough to make the perspective clear; the style of the filmmaking itself ought to shift so that it is clear that we are experiencing the events though a particular character’s point of view but that’s never accomplished. As a result the movie has intertitles, voiceover, and other non-diegetic elements that set up the audience to expect something that doesn’t happen. Aside from the flat stylistic choices of A Long Way Down, the movie comes up short on plotting and characterization. Each of these people are clearly distinct from one another but the focus on each one of them should lead to a deeper investigation, revealing what led each of them to the rooftop and how their lives are changed by their relationships with each other. But with the exception of Toni Collette’s character none of the main cast are given the kind of in-depth character study that the film needs. The actors are skilled and do a lot to compensate for their underwritten parts but there are very few actual plot beats or crucial moments in which these people make character-defining choices. The film sets up a potentially interesting development in which the group members embellish their experience to the press, claiming they were saved by divine intervention, but the consequences of that lie are not pursued to a meaningful end. That lack of follow through and coherence tends to define this movie; individual parts are done well but they don’t coalesce into a coherent whole. That’s doubly problematic for a movie about suicide. The subject matter deserves a more intelligent and nuanced presentation than it’s given here.
Bottom Line: A Long Way Down has some stellar performances but the filmmakers needed to do a better job of adapting the material for the screen. The film’s whole is less than the sum of its parts.
Episode: #495 (June 15, 2014)