December 2005

Last Exit

Last Exit I first saw – and reviewed - Last Exit in Early 2004 but, with a recut and rescored Region 1 DVD released in November, director David Noel Bourke asked if I’d like to take another look at it. And I have to admit that this was an opportunity I jumped at.

Last Exit is the story of Nigel (Morten Vogelius) who, having fled the UK – as well as a former wife and son - to escape mounting debts, finds himself renting an apartment in Copenhagen with his junkie wife, Maria (Jette Philipsen). Much as she would like a normal life, Maria is unable to get through Nigel’s self-absorption and – as a result – the two rarely communicate and only occasionally end up in bed together. This is not a happy relationship by any stretch of the imagination.

With no job and no income, things are looking bleak for Nigel until a chance encounter with Tobias (Erling Eliasson) puts him in touch with an underworld figure who goes by the name of “The President” (Peter Ottesen).

The President is one of the most genuinely menacing villains to grace the screen in a long time. Even when at his most polite – which is as close to friendliness that he gets – he still maintains an air of casual menace. And when he’s not being polite, he’s downright dangerous.

The President gives Nigel a job – looking after 50 boxes in his apartment for two weeks – and leaves him in the more than capable hands of Tanya (Gry Bay) – one of the prostitutes in his employ. Unfortunately for Nigel, Tanya is not only there to ensure that Nigel remains compromised enough to allow The President to keep him in line, but she also has an agenda of her own.

Nigel’s problem is twofold. Firstly, he is an exceptionally weak person and completely unable to say no, regardless of what is asked of him, by whom or how bad an idea it is. Secondly, he is so focussed on the money being offered to him by The President, and the prospect of getting out of debt, that he is oblivious to what is going on around him.

It’s not surprising then that he quickly finds himself out of his depth and in mounting trouble.

The only port in Nigel’s stormy existence is Jimmy (Nicholas Sherry) – the existentialist dope dealer who, for the price of a free joint, will expound at length on life, the universe and everything.

Jimmy is an interesting character. He knows Nigel – although Nigel clearly doesn’t know him – and, in many ways, acts as the voice of Nigel’s conscience. The lack of clarity as to who, exactly, he is and where he comes from is deliberate and leaves it to the audience to draw their own conclusions. As such, anything more I say about him will probably tell you more about my own prejudices than the character.

On the face of it, Last Exit does look like a very grim crime drama – and a very well made one at that, with a script that steadily draws us in to Nigel’s world, taking the time to ensure that we can see how each of Nigel’s actions leads him deeper and deeper into the morass.

This works, of course, because the cast is very solid throughout – especially in the case of Morten Vogelius who, as Nigel, gives us a truly pathetic character and manages to make the audience care about what happens to him.

Jette Philipsen also deserves a mention here for managing to combine Maria’s loneliness, distress, hopes and fears into a frighteningly sympathetic drug addict.

The soundtrack and cinematography are also both well worth a mention, managing to create a very downbeat atmosphere that effectively depicts the seediness of Nigel’s existence.

However, what really puts this film into a league of its own is a streak of dark humour that runs throughout. And it’s for this darkly humorous portrayal of the downfall of a weak willed and self centred man that Last Exit is a film well worth getting hold of.

The Cold Heat

The Cold Heat The Cold Heat is one of those films that I have a lot of difficulty talking about. My usual approach is to chunter along with an annotated synopsis until I start to reach potential spoiler territory, at which point I start winding up with some general comments about the film.

In this case, The Cold Heat starts with a couple having sex in a hotel bedroom.

And there really isn’t a lot else I can say, not only because of the lightness of the plot but also because pretty much every plot element from here on in is a twist.

The couple (played by Shane Ryan and Michiko Jiminez) really don’t communicate with each other at all, apart from the frequent, lengthy sexual bouts, and the two actors do manage to depict very accurately exactly what sort of relationship this is.

The film itself is shot in very stark black and white, with a few flashes of colour, which does give it a very nourish look. That said, it’s more of an experimental film than a straight film noir – or maybe it’s a surreal film with a nourish flourish.

Either way, the gritty look certainly adds a lot to the atmosphere of the film.

And The Cold Heat is a film that is very heavy on the atmosphere. Not just visually, but also in audio terms with simple sounds – a cigarette lighter, a light switch – massively amplified.

The audio style threw me a little at first, but once I’d gotten used to it, I did find that it does work very effectively to help generate an increasing level of tension as the film progresses.

The film isn’t perfect and finishes on quite an open-ended note, but, as an exercise in atmosphere, it is very effective and well worth tracking down.