Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Tony (2009) - Gerard Johnson

I watched this on a train journey up to Stockholm last summer, and thought it was wonderful. Ever since then I've been dying to see it alone from the comfort of my sofa, since a train carriage (even a 1st class one), isn't the optimum place to watch a film. Second time around this was even better than I remembered.

Although this doesn't seem to be mentioned anywhere, the lead character in this film is loosely based on Anthony Hardy, who killed 3 people and dumped bin bags filled with chopped up bodies into the bins around the flats where he lived in Camden. So as you might have sussed this isn't a biopic about Tony Wilson. Peter Ferdinando inhabits Tony Benson in a totally realistic way, I think it's fair to say that you can smell his bad breath. Tony likes his 80's action films, and the sad thing is if you have taken a few minutes to look around you then you've seen Tony Benson somewhere before. In the supermarket, or on the bus or doing a bit of top shelf reading in the newsagents. He's one of those people that finds it hard to connect with other people, and drifts into his own fantasy world. They look odd, they are odd, you might even have a nickname for them. Anyway like I said Ferdinando is Benson, he's in every frame of the film. Oscar worthy? Better than that, much better. It's a performance that will make you constantly check his IMDB page to see what he's up to. I really hope to see him in something again, but as usual with British actors I fear that might not happen.

Sadly not everyone in this film is quite up to Ferdinando's standard, with some of the lesser characters being a little clichéd in their portrayal. But that's what happens with low budget fare, and this comes across as being very low budget, not in terms of quality but more in the way that it doesn't allow itself to be any bigger than necessary. So we have a running time of a smidgen over 70 minutes, and what seems to be no sets, just location work. All of this works in favour of the film though, likewise Gerard Johnson doesn't try and show us how good he is at finding exciting camera angles, he just shoots as if it's a documentary. All very Ken Loach in that way, which is kind of the reference I was thinking of as I watched this. It's like a Shane Meadows script shot by Ken Loach on a shoestring budget. Like Loach we drop in on Tony's world for a few days, and then we drift back out of it at the end of the film. We just get a glimpse of what it's like to be him. We don't find anything out about his background, never know just how he started killing, or even why. There are victims scattered around his flat, but we never find out who they are. It's perfect in that way. There is no police squad hunting him down or any of the usual serial killer pap that you get in films. Tony's nearest film cousin is Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. There is a streak of tar black humour running through the whole film too, as there always seems to be in the better British films. However just like Meadows, Johnson is able to go from something almost comical to the darkest horror in the time it takes to blink your eyes.

Props to Matt Johnson of The The fame for coming up with a suitable soundtrack. It tinkles away in the background, not once trying to force it's way to the fore of the film like so many modern soundtracks do. Gerard Johnson is definitely one to watch. I just hope there is more he has to give.

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