8.5 out of 10
Release Date: 27th September 2013
Director: Christine Molloy & Joe Lawlor (Helen)
Cast: Aiden Gillen, Zoe Tay, Michael Thomas, Vincent Tee, Shu Ann Oon, Ashleigh Judith White and Claire Keelan
Writer: Christine Molloy & Joe Lawlor
Trailer: MISTER JOHN
Here comes Irish actor Aiden Gillen (THE WIRE) in his finest performance to date. Whilst he’s been present in some odd films, on the whole he’s been a dependable performer across a full spectrum of blockbusters, TV serials and low-budget Britpics. So its good to see him in such a rewarding leading role, finally.
Director and writer team of Christine Molloy and Joe Lawlor have improved on their debut Helen, which was an elusive and very odd thriller. Whilst Mister John sustains an air of mystery their are a number of plot strands and smart ideas at play. The economic script allows the actors to tell the story without over-egging the pudding. Only once, in a protracted dream-sequence are plot points underlined for audience members sat on their mobile-phones throughout. Said dream sequence is at odds with the rest of the movie and its inclusion is unnecessary because we know exactly what’s troubling our main character without having an idiot’s guide to what we’ve just watched.
Gerry (AIDEN GILLEN) is called to Singapore for his brother, Mister John’s, funeral. His death comes at a time when Gerry is going through a very rough patch in his marriage. Whilst visiting the spot where his brother’s body was found he’s bitten by a snake. He’s told by doctors that the antidote will have a strange effect on him over the next few days. Compounded with jet-lag, his grief, learning about his estranged brother’s life, a giant hangover and exposure to Singapore’s frank sexuality, Gerry’s in for a strange few days. Mister John and his bar, also called Mister John’s looms large over the story. Even though we only capture glimpses of his face here and there, we learn that he was a well-liked member of the community. Mister John’s wife Kim (ZOE TAY) welcomes Gerry into her home and introduces him to the regulars at the bar. As it’s a centre of the community, one such tradition is to ‘help’ some patrons out by lending them small amounts of money because it ensures customer loyalty and friendship. There is one such debtor, a German ex-pat called Lester (MICHAEL THOMAS) whose debt is bigger than anybody else’s and Gerry offers to collect it, leading to a few unusual situations.
The film works well as a mystery, even though the circumstances of Mister John’s death are not suspicious. The central mystery is whether or not Gerry will stay in Singapore and fill his brothers shoes, or whether he or not he has come to Singapore to die himself. We get the sense that Kim is delaying her grief by filling her husband’s space with Gerry. Gerry’s luggage get’s lost in transit so Kim lends him Mister John’s clothes. What begins as a practical solution ends as a mutual understanding that the pair are somehow keeping Mister John’s spirit going. Local myth says that the water ghost has taken his brother and that his spirit can only return once he has been replaced in the lake. This is mentioned several times, once by a stranger and once by Mister John’s teenage daughter, Isadore (ASHLEIGH JUDITH WHITE).
There are several great, yet subtle episodes in the film. One scene is a conversation in a late night bar with a prostitute (SHU ANN OON) which confirms the ready availabilty of sex at every turn. Sex has a different value in Singapore, and this is apparent throughout the film, without there being any actual sex scenes. Singapore itself plays a character in the film, and its rare that filmmakers bother to get under the skin of the location. Yet, you get a real feel for what life is like in there with it’s steamy-heat, the chorus of insects and frogs that screech all-night that you fail to even notice after a few days, the easy nature of getting drunk with new people far away from home, and the depiction of the life of a British / Irish ex-pat.
Mister John has been described as being Lynchian. This does the film a disservice, and as much as I like David Lynch, the comparison is an exercise in misdirection. Aside from the verbose and over-played dream sequence, Mister John has a firm story arc and if you have the time to think about it, everything makes clear and tight sense. It doesn’t even have an open ending.
The soundtrack sounds like it should have been used in a sweeping epic like The English Patient, but it still works as grand emotions are at play. On the whole, Mister John is as thoughtful, tender and accurate a portrayal of a soul cut adrift from his normal life.
8.5 out of 10 – An almost perfect portrayal of grief and culture shock. Mister John contains Aiden Gillen‘s very best film performance too. Wholeheartedly recommended.
WHAT HAVE I SEEN THAT ACTOR IN BEFORE?
- Aiden Gillen: Pickups, King Arthur – Legend of the Sword, Sing Street, Game Of Thrones (TV), You’re Ugly Too, Maze Runner 2, Still, Calvary, Shadow Dancer, Treacle Jr, The Dark Knight Rises, Blitz, Wake Wood, Twelve Rounds, The Wire (TV), Shanghai Knights, The Low Down, Queer As Folk (TV), My Kingdom, Some Mother’s Son, Mojo, Circle Of Friends
- Claire Keelan: The Trip To Spain (TV), The Trip To Italy (TV), Kelly + Victor, The Trip (TV), Hush, Nathan Barley (TV)