Starring: Paul Dano, Daniel Radcliffe, Mary Elizabeth Winstead
Director: Daniel Kwan, Daniel Scheinert
Running Time: 97 mins
Swiss Army Man is an American film about a man stranded on a desert island who comes across a dead body, with whom he becomes close friends over the course of a bizarre journey that he hopes will lead him home.
This film is strange, weird, odd, and whatever other word you can think of. With its unique and often surreal story, it makes for an intriguing but often difficult watch, struggling to really pull itself together as a coherent film, and getting stuck between interesting drama and poor comedy for the first two-thirds of its runtime, although its final act does bring another level of intrigue that saves it from being a complete mixed bag.
Let’s start with the two men at the centre of the film: Paul Dano and Daniel Radcliffe. On the whole, their performances are pretty good, and fit the bill of their characters pretty well, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re endlessly riveting to watch throughout.
On the one hand, Dano does a good job at carrying the emotional centre of the film, and although the direction that the story takes in its second act means that that emotion isn’t always quite as enthralling, he proves an engaging lead regardless.
Meanwhile, Radcliffe really impresses on the physical front, being the most convincing alive dead body you can imagine. Again, the comedic writing he’s given means he’s not absolutely stunning to watch, however there’s no denying that he does a great job at being a very believable corpse throughout the movie, something that you can’t say for many films.
Moving on, the film’s story is where things start to disappoint. On the one hand, the survival/adventure element of the plot is fairly entertaining, and with the added hardship for Dano of having to carry a corpse around pretty difficult terrain, it’s pretty fun to watch. What’s more, the final act reinvigorates that side of the story, with a fantastically dark yet hilarious conclusion to the duo’s desperate adventure to get home, and that means there are definitely moments where the film is a real joy to watch.
However, the middle portion of the film is where things really do struggle to keep you fully engaged. On the one hand, there’s a lot of clear emotion on display, as we see Dano’s character trying to teach the corpse everything about the real world, from love to death and everything in between, and in the process, the character’s emotion at finally being reconnected to the outside world after his time on the desert island is obvious.
Despite that, the way the film carries that out isn’t the most riveting, effectively stopping the entire adventure and turning into an overly self-indulgent and self-introspective drama that really doesn’t match up to some of the entertainment of the duo’s adventure, nor does it prove as interesting or emotionally affecting as it clearly thinks it is.
Finally, there are a few issues with the comedy here. Its darkly funny final act should have been the template for the entire movie, but instead the majority of the humour is too separated between overly dark and overly broad. So, the fact that the corpse is constantly breaking wind throughout the movie is something that can easily get on your nerves, whilst some of the jokes that relate to the characters’ innermost thoughts and feelings don’t really land the way they should.
Overall, I found Swiss Army Man to be a bit of a mixed bag. Yes, its final act is an excellent conclusion, whilst its adventure story is entertaining throughout, and its two leads do a good job, however it’s a film that’s often very inconsistent, failing to drive a fully coherent or engaging story from start to finish, nor managing to pick a style of comedy that proves both funny and still interesting throughout, and that’s why I’m giving it a 7.1.