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High Life

Film Three Stars
High Life was an unusual film that I was drawn to for three names, Timothy Olyphant, Stephen Eric McIntyre and Joe Anderson, but in particular it was the idea of seeing Olyphant in a rather different role to the one I'd seen him in to date, a role that really stood against the last film I'd seen him in, Die Hard 4.0 (Live Free or Die Hard) (Filmstalker review). Coupled with the plot of course, because it sounded an interesting mish-mash and an idea that really was going to deliver some dark comedy, or so I hoped.

It's really hard to tell though when relying on the blurb delivered in a film festival brochure, because they never tell you the truth about a bad film, why would they? They want to sell it to you, then that means that the truly good and great don't stand out nearly as much as they should do. So you have to take a chance, and sometimes I take bold chances, this was one of them.

Plot.pngHigh Life follows the story of Dick, played by Timothy Olyphant, who has been going straight since he came out of prison, not just straight as in crime, but also as in drugs. He's been going straight and holding down a job. That is until his old friend Bug, played by Stephen Eric McIntyre, comes out of jail and arrives at his work one day, and within ten minutes puts it all in jeopardy. Having been kicked out of his job and with his old friend pulling him back in, he's straight back into the old circle again. This time though, through the drug addled haze, he's planning something new, he's planning to rob a bank, if they can stay in the real world long enough that is.

He gets the idea from Donnie, played by Joe Anderson, another friend and drug user who shares with him his little scam for gaining money, and that sparks off something bigger in Dick's head, and before long he has a plan. Of course things are going to go wrong, and they do, especially when events aren't turning out as simply as he'd planned them.

TheFilm.pngHigh Life is quite a funny film, and it becomes much funnier when the group have shared their plan and begin to put it in motion. What I really liked about it is that it didn't us the standard methods of humour that we've seen so much of. It mixes it up a little and there's much more here than a comedy.

The film does go a little dark at times, but there's always a lightness to it. For instance a scene where you see Olyphant's character pleading for a car and money from his ex-wife and new partner obviously for his selfish intentions of blowing on drugs, should seem rather pathetic and strike a sad chord, especially when you see that his kid is watching and realises what his father has become. Yet the script and Olyphant manage to inject, if you'll pardon the fun, a fair amount of humour and pathos into the moment and it comes through well, keeping that comic edge going.

It doesn't miss out the serious aspect though, and there are a number of times a darker and more realistic side is brought into the film, and the script and director manage to merge them rather well without making you feel like the comedy is pausing to tell you a big moralistic tale or that the comic moments are placed in purely to balance out the serious aspects. No they are merged together well, and while this isn't a serious moralistic story or a but gusting comedy, it does bring together both sides well in a lighter, more palatable way.

There are some laugh out loud moments though, and I did too, in a crowded room of silent people all watching their own video screens with headsets on, I wonder what the people running the videotheque at the Edinburgh International Film Festival thought? These moments tended to be when something went so ridiculously wrong or some character was in the process of making it go wrong I just couldn't help myself. I think some of the best moments like this belong to Rossif Sutherland, who plays the good looking, never before imprisoned, Billy.

Actually what is best is seeing Billy play off of Bug, pretty boy versus angry man, and each time Bug gets riled and his anger rises Billy mixes it up even more, these scenes were some of the most enjoyable.

Olyphant is really good. I was surprised how easy it seemed for him and how he didn't overpower the film with his big star status. I really thought that could happen considering how he was in Die Hard 4.0, and I thought that perhaps I'd not be able to get over that role myself, especially playing a small time loser in a smaller, dark comedy like this. Yet he did it, and I didn't even give his previous roles a second thought. Plus he played the role far better than I thought he would. His comic timing showing through well.

I enjoyed the way the story played out too, and it doesn't seem to follow too many conventions. Throughout the film there were a couple of moments that seemed like rather rough and jumpy cuts, although I couldn't be sure if that was down to the playback on the new digital system or the film itself.

I wasn't entirely convinced by the ending though, it did seem to go on a bit too long and took the story to places it didn't really seem to belong with regards the overall film. In a way some of the ending felt like a part two or a spin-off for the characters. It felt overly long and in the end didn't really seem like it was going anywhere new with the story. I would like to see a different cut of the ending, one which might just pick up the pace and tie the story up nicely.

One thing I did notice throughout the film was the soundtrack. The music chosen was rather good and I didn't realise how much I was enjoying the soundtrack without any of the songs taking me away from the characters and the story.

Overall.pngI liked High Life. Although there were a few problems with the ending and it did affect the overall quality of the film, it had some interesting characters who interacted well and gave some good entertainment and some laughs. Timothy Olyphant is not the only one who gives a good performance either, he's stood beside a strong cast that all bring out the humour in their characters and their stories while still managing to hold onto some more serious moments.

It's a good film that shows a lot of promise and imagination from those behind it, a lot more than Hollywood seems to be able to churn out these days particularly in the comedy genre.

Filmstalker at the Edinburgh International Film Festival 2009
High Life on UK IMDB



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