A Long Way Down
This adaptation of Nick Hornby's hit novel starts shakily but finds its feet in the second half
Perhaps appropriately for a film centred around four people who attempt to commit suicide, A Long Way Down initially seems resoundingly Dead On Arrival. But after a prolonged spell of lifelessness the story unexpectedly develops a beating heart around the halfway point, and concludes as a touching depiction of unlikely friendship and mutual support.
It begins one New Year's Eve with Martin (Pierce Brosnan), a disgraced former chat show host, estranged from his family and at a low ebb, making his way to a notorious London suicide spot with clear intent. Once there, his plan is quickly scuppered as three other lost souls turn up with exactly the same idea: Maureen (Toni Colette), full-time carer to her disabled adult son; JJ (Aaron Paul), a failed musician and Jess (Imogen Poots), the neurotic and recently-dumped daughter of a prominent politician. They form an improbable alliance, but when the story about their almost-suicide becomes headline news, Martin unwisely convinces the other three that they should use this media profile to their advantage.
Making his English-language debut, director Pascal Chaumeil (Heartbreaker) initially stumbles over this contrived set-up, swerving between attempts at madcap comedy and poignant drama, but succeeding at neither. Similarly screenwriter Jack Thorne, adapting Nick Hornby's bestselling novel, struggles to condense the stories of four main characters into 90 minutes, and his script feels underwritten, zipping through incidents but failing to show us who these people are and what is driving them.
But the film begins to make more sense and develop substance when it slows down. A late sequence focusing on Maureen is a powerful reminder of how brilliant an actress Toni Collette can be, and Chaumeil eventually finds a fitting balance of humour and darkness, bringing out Hornby's deeper points about loneliness and the power of community.
Reviewed at Glasgow Film Festival 2014. General release from Fri 21 Mar.