More noise than signal


Republished from the show notes of my other site, Fuds on Film.

Tough one to talk about considerately, this. I’d say it’s best enjoyed by knowing as little as possible going into it. Even the curiously oblique character names will prompt questions. I’ll obfuscate this to the best of my ability.

We’re introduced to Ethan Hawke’s character, who the credits say we should call The Barkeep, shuffling around in the shadows attempting to foil a bombing and partially succeeding, containing the damage to an enclosure built for such duty, and his face, which wasn’t. He scrambles for a device which blasts him back to his own time period, and one quick Ethan Hawke-shaped face transplant later, he’s back with his boss, Noah Taylor’s Mr. Robertson, in some government time travel agency or other.

After recuperating, he’s given one last job – this sort of chrono-crimefighting apparently taking its toll on the mind as well as the body. It’s actually the same job that got him into trouble in the first place; find and stop the Fizzle Bomber, who, despite the name, is bombing buildings with people in them, not fizzles.

As part of this work he’s sent to the seventies, undercover as a bar keeper, where he meets Sarah Snook’s The Unmarried Mother, and weasels her life story out of her in what turns out to be another axis of Mr. Robertson’s plan – to hire his own replacement.

Convincing her to take this opportunity, and along the way enact some vengeance for a previous misfortune that befell her, off the two go hopping through a convoluted narrative that goes some way to explain why The Unmarried Mother’s life story is so convoluted, but the details of which are perhaps best left to the interested.

If you’d asked me what I thought of this as the credits roll, I’d have a much more straightforward answer for you. It’s a very engaging piece of work indeed, and perhaps the film on this list that I was most awed by on first view. It often looks exceptionally pretty, even in a grim industrial setting, and props should go to The Brothers Spierig, or their cinematographer Ben Nott perhaps, for creating such an arresting movie on, well, not a pittance, exactly, but well below the budget this sort of thing normally requires.

Ethan Hawke and Sarah Snook both ably work through a complex maximally twisty turny script, particularly from a character standpoint, and I found both characters quite compelling indeed, and combined with a narrative that does a pretty good job of keeping you guessing where it’s going, most of the time, it’s easy enough to heartily recommend that you pop this on your watch list.

I then recommend not thinking about it at all, because for me at least the more I think about this the less I like it. All the points just mentioned remain true, but the plot is, when you think about it, nonsense on stilts. You can let some extraordinarily unusual things go – given the nature of a government agency such as this it could have the effectively perfect knowledge required for parts of this, but it’s then baffling that their apparent solution for the stated aim of the agency is quite so indiscriminately murdery.

And that’s even given the most generous interpretation of Mr. Robertson being some extraordinary puppet master, capable of complete manipulation of his agents and circumstances, which to my mind is a pretty unsustainable load to bear on his, what, ten lines of dialogue, max? If we assume instead that he is just some random civil servant, well, the plot gets a whole lot less sensible.

I guess all I can say is that, even despite mentally picking this apart over the past few days, I enjoyed both watching it, and that picking apart process, so, well, I suppose that makes it one of the most thought-provoking films I’ve seen over the past few years, and much like their previous Daybreakers, a novel spin on a well-trodden formula. Like I said, pop this on your watch list.