Since I’ve started this site, I’ve written a lot of reviews. In case you missed some of my earlier ones, I would like to share an older review of “Swiss Army Man” which originally appeared here.
Being stranded on a deserted island leaves young Hank (Paul Dano) bored, lonely and without hope. As a rope hangs around his neck, Hank prepares to end it all, until he suddenly spots a man (Daniel Radcliffe) laying by the shore. Unfortunately, he is dead and quite flatulent. Using the gassy body to his advantage, Hank miraculously makes it back to the mainland. However, he now finds himself lost in the wilderness, and dragging the talking corpse named Manny along for the adventure.
The funny thing about this one was that all of the trailers always made us wonder what we were actually seeing. This was mainly because none of us have ever seen anything remotely like this before. This was the real allure here . The trailers were just so weirdly interesting, I had to see the whole thing out. I’m a big fan of Paul Dano and Daniel Radcliffe but I would never have imagined them being together in anything so this partnership also interested me. I was very excited for this but I did not put it on my list of most anticipated films of 2016 because I didn’t think it would come to my city but I’m glad it did. Seeing that it wasn’t exactly clear what it was going to be about, I had little expectations. This is probably the best way to see it.
The film starts off with what we saw in the trailers with Hank (Dano) bored, lonely, and stranded on a deserted island. When he is about to commit suicide, a man (Radcliffe) suddenly washes up shore, forcing Hank to reconsider his decision. Noticing this corpse is more gassy than usual (and that is probably an understatement), Hank tries to use this to his advantage but fails. Now back on shore, Hank and his new friend must work together so Hank could find his way back home. Everybody knows by now that the corpse, named Manny, can talk among other things but the moment which Hank first discovers this was a great moment. The imagination behind the character of Manny and everything he does was well done and was great to watch on screen. Even though he was created from Hank’s starvation-fueled hallucinations, he was still a great character with a lot of personality even though it was mostly Hank’s.
Since Manny is a corpse, he didn’t remember anything about his past life or of anything in general and came off almost child-like in asking Hank a whole bunch of existential questions. Some of questions included “What is love?”. Over the course of these conversations, the film explores what it really means to be human and the human experience. Because of Manny’s child-like nature, he didn’t always understand things from Hank, who was probably not the best teacher, which made things fun to watch. Hank and Manny were very fun to watch throughout as they had great chemistry. They played very well off of each other. Hank started off a little weary of Manny but they quickly bonded and became great friends. Thanks to Dano and Radcliffe, this relationship felt very believable.
Hank and Manny bonded over helping each other get home and over Hank helping Manny remember his past, involving a girl named Sarah (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). In order to help him, Hank would recreate situations and locales from Manny’s life to help jog his memory. These had a lot of imagination and often looked as close to the real thing. One has to remember that they’re on a deserted island so they could only go so far but the film did take some liberties with this in order to get a desired result. What helped with this is that the film often weaved back and forth between the present and the past to show what the recreations were meant to look like. They were fun to watch as well, especially whenever Hank would dress up as Sarah and try to act like her.
The performances here were amazing with both Dano and Radcliffe committing to the film’s absurd (in a good way) vision and story. Dano was great at the lonely and emotionally vulnerable Hank who latched on to the closest thing to a companion in Manny. Radcliffe had the more physically demanding role with Manny, having to play dead the entire film, depending on Dano to manipulate his body in various positions while also having many ragdoll type moments which may or may not have been real. He was great at acting like a man-child who was pretty much clueless and seemed to never really learn what Hank was trying to teach him about being human and human nature.
What should be commended here was the film’s surrealistic style which went well with the rest of the film and the characters’ philosophical debates about what it meant to be human. The cinematography matched this was with a series of beautiful beach and water shots and some great forrest shots too. The score and the soundtrack continued along these lines.
Overall, its occasional crass nature may be off-putting for some but that should not be the takeaway here as this is one of the most original films released in a long time and is also bolstered by great performances by Dano and Radcliffe.
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