Sunday, 23 January 2011

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - Tony

Directed by: Gerard Johnson

Produced by: Dan McCulloch

Written by: Gerard Johnson

Starring: Peter Ferdinando

Music by: Matt Johnson/The The

Cinematography by: David Higgs

Edited by: Ian Davies

Distributed by: Revolver Entertainment

Running time: 72 minutes

Country: United Kingdom

Language: English

Alright folks, once again I have went back on my word with regards to the frequent updates of my reviews. But hey, the fact I don’t have internet at the moment (for reasons out of my control) shouldn’t stop me. And it won’t! I have still been keeping up with films, and intend to have many more done before the year-end awards. Incidentally, I have recently found that one of the great pleasures of being over 18 is that you have no bother buying some really nasty films. Henceforth, I have bought films ranging from Lucio Fulci’s terrible New York Ripper to the wonderfully anarchic Stuart Gordon film Re-Animator.

Today’s film Tony is the result of one of these trips to the horror film section. Lurking in the horror film section of a DVD store brings certain expectations: one, some strange looking people, two, people walking past giving you strange looks, and three (of course, we English hounds love the power of three), strange-looking films (that usually pay off in this respect, regardless of quality). As mentioned, New York Ripper and Re-Animator were found this way, as was Wes Craven’s Last House On The Left (not a great film, but still very good) and Snuff Movie by Bernard Rose (still yet to watch). Tony stood out because, well, I tend not to like to pay over a fiver for a DVD so the £5 label was appealing, and because the film was called Tony. Just say the title, Tony! It sounds odd to call a film simply after the first name of the title character and not the full name. Also, if one looks at titles based on characters, most of them have extensions, Saving Private Ryan, Shakespeare In Love etc (don’t dare go near me with Jesse James!). Already, we have something enticing me, and then the strange-looking man who bears a passing resemblance to Julian Barratt on the cover wielding a hammer. So, I bought the film, having not heard of it before, primed for review.

Tony is a film that does not require much of a plot synopsis, so I’ll probably be keeping this relatively short. Tony, in case you didn’t guess by now, follows Tony (Peter Ferdinando). He is a social recluse, spending much of his time digesting action films in flat and making the occasional shopping trip off of benefits. However, we find out that Tony is a serial killer pretty early on, and much of the drama leans on the basis of this dark secret.

To start with what is good about Tony, the performance of Peter Ferdinando must be taken into account. The character of Tony is in every scene of the film, and as such the film’s quality relies heavily on whether or not he gives a good performance. He doesn’t just give a good performance, but gives one of this year’s truly great performances. Tony is a character that could have been played in some many different ways, yet Ferdinando seems to have picked the right one. It is obvious that he has spent much time in perfecting this character, just in the way he looks. The rather strange outward appearance, hiding behind glasses and a moustache give us strong impressions of the character. Also, he doesn’t wear casual clothing, instead fidgeting uncomfortably in his own skin, adorned in a shirt and too-high trousers. Just hearing Ferdinando speak as Tony in performance terms is a thing of beauty (though he is a bit of a hideous character). This is very studied acting that formulates a rounded, three-dimensional character. There are patterns and routines (in every way) that Tony abides to, and he is a fascinating character to watch. Somehow, despite his committing repulsive crimes, we sympathise as we see moments when he is genuinely reaching out to other people, but too inept and awkward to do so. It is a great achievement in acting to make such a nasty film with a character doing such nasty deeds incredibly watchable. Also, while on the topic of acting, credit must be given to the supporting cast. Although having far less to do than Ferdinando, they manage to give performances that give the impression of being real people. Despite many being fodder for Tony, they manage to transcend the symbolic nature of what they are and their meaning to Tony. Tony is one of the films with the best all-round acting, particularly the performance of Peter Ferdinando.

Being a film that follows Tony, cinematography plays a key part in the films dynamic. David Higgs does a terrific job of this. The film is down-and-dirty, shot on a shoestring. As such, it befits that we follow Tony through his working-class area in London with a digital camera. It gives Tony a certain grimy raw feeling that befits the nastiness of the film’s topic matter. The colour tones are kept murky and dark, any outstanding, bright colours coming as a bit of a shock, both to Tony and the viewer. Normal colours, such as your bog-standard primaries red, blue and yellow, become almost blinding. Also, stylistically Higgs takes an interesting view on shooting the action. Instead of the usual DV approach of becoming a participant in the action, Higgs makes us become an observer. The camera rarely, if at all, takes a first-person perspective shot or over-the-shoulder shot. It either remains solidly in place, or walks alongside Tony. We become that little person that he so yearns for, and this creates an interesting relationship between the film and its viewer. Also, it is challenging in that as observer, we become voyeurs, compelled to root for Tony when he comes into trouble or watch with unblinking fascination at the brutality onscreen. Higgs in his own way, does one of the best and least overt jobs in cinematography this year (and when I say this year I mean last year!).

Words of praise must also be lavished on the sound of the film, both sound effects and soundtrack/original score. Like The American, Tony understands the power of silence. Much of the film is very quiet, the sounds being the world around Tony. Sound editors have done an amazing job of this capsulated form of London, a city I am familiar with, seem like its own, self-contained universe. The interruptions in these silences are the conversations, of which we catch every nuance and intonation, and the brutal sounds of the murders. These murders conjure quite a reaction from the viewer, taking far too long (in a good way for the film) to end, prolonging our torture. With regards to the original score/soundtrack, the work by Matt Johnson of The The fame is very minimalist. Bar the rare ambient sounds, the only non-diagetic sound are varieties of one recurring theme that I know as ‘The Tony Theme.’ It is rare for a film to have its own original theme song today, so perhaps it is strange to find it in this film of all places. Nevertheless, it works perfectly in the mysterious context of the film and as a result, alone in its various incarnations becomes one of the year’s best original scores.

Tony is in many senses a really great movie, and I would even go so far as to say one of the best of 2010. However, the film is problematic in a number of manners. For starters, the film does seem to kind of float around with actually arriving at any set conclusions. I'm not saying I have a problem with the ending, and I think that the film is very skilful in its ambiguity. Nevertheless, it does not change the fact that things are rather underdeveloped. Everything is left in the open, and this does come across as a problem. You can only go so without conclusions before people start thinking that the movie is badly written. It isn't badly written, the minimal dialogue saying exactly what is needed, but the way in which the film is structured disconnects us from becoming too involved in the film. Saying that, in doing this it becomes pretty subversive and challenging.

Also, there is a problem with regards to the running time of the film. At seventy-two minutes including a four-minute credit sequence, one can't help but wonder if this was a film better off running for a number of showings on Channel 4. As a feature-length film, it feels underdeveloped, though highly watchable as it is. While the running length does not dictate how good the movie is, even at seventy-two minutes, it feels like a long watch. If the movie was ninety minutes of length, it would be intensely frustrating and dull. As it is, it still feels long and if the cow was milked a bit too much. Personally, I feel a bit more development would have necessary for Tony to be a genuine horror classic.

While occasionally problematic, feeling long at seventy-two minutes, slightly underdeveloped and never really coming to any conclusions whatsoever, Tony is a really great film. It possesses one of the year's most subtle lead performances from Peter Ferdinando, some voyeuristic cinematography from David Higgs and a fine minimalist score from Matt Johnson/The The. As it stands, this is a fine debut film from Gerard Johnson, who shows excellent promise as a filmmaker.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 8.6/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Tired (don't know how, only got up at one today!)

P.S. Wrote most of this review about two weeks ago, so if thinks seem a bit odd, blame it on the delayed publishing. Peace Out!

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