Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Thu Sep 23, 2021 9:57 am 
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Ben Whishaw is virtuosic in a mime-heavy version of a wild London crime spree

Aneil Karia, who's made some much-admired shorts and directed edgy UK TV shows, presents an able feature playground for the great Ben Whishaw to go into full neurotic crackup mode. The action has something in common with the Safdie brothers' Good Time, which provided another, more gorgeous male star ( a chance to do 24 hours of challenging wildness. Only this is as if the manic, clumsy crook Robert Pattinson plays and his character's mentally deranged brother were combined in one character, Joseph (K? Whishaw), a British airport security line inspector (as seen here, a most disturbing job) with wildly dysfunctional parents (Ellie Haddington and Ian Gelder) who seem to push him over the top into a flurry of illegal acts. It's a fantastic, largely mime performance by Whishaw - full of tics that all seem real. If only the camera had been less jumpy and expressionistic and kept a bit more distance, we'd have been able to see better what's going on.

At the job where it's his duty to pat down people who have set off the metal detector, Joseph is forced into intimacy with two crazy, drunken-looking men; one claims the metal-detector burns him. At lunch, it feels like his coworkers notice him only to gibe at him. That it's his birthday may push long-held desperation to a tipping point. At first he only fidgets and twitches, but it shows he's not quite right.

When he visits his mum and dad for this occasion, his habit of biting down too hard on things, accelerated by their neurotic tension, causes him to bite off the edge of a glass and cut his lower lip. The sight of his own blood when he looks in the mirror seems to derange him, like a mad dog, starting his wild rampage, which may be seen as him experiencing a continuous adrenaline rush that makes him feel for the first time truly alive. He goes to work again but can't take it and wigs out. He's on his rampage now. But at first he merely visits a coworker he fancies, Lily (Jasmine Jobson), to resolve a problem she described the day before, and hook up her laptop to her new TV for her. She needs a cable, which he goes out to get.

He can't pay the 4.99 for the cable, because the ATM eats his card. This leads him to rob the bank. Back to the convenience shop with wads and wads of cash, he buys the cable and returns to Lily, with motorcycle cops whizzing round and the filmmaker's camera (by dp Stuart Bentley) wildly swinging as if attached to his neck - distracting from rather than enhancing Whishaw's vivid, meticulous performance.

But nothing can ruin the manic brilliance of it. Or the three-person invention's inclusions of humor and tenderness along with the hysteria. (Rupert Jones and Rita Kainejais did the screenplay with Karia collaborating on the story.) When Joseph has hooked up Lily's new cable, he takes as reward a hookup of another kind, grinning, both laughing, standing up. The bank robbery went so well, he stages two more. The cut on his lower lip from the glass he broke off causes him to grimace, wiggle, and grin; he tilts his head; waves his arms in the air, that gesture perhaps partly inspired by the myriad travelers he has seen raising their arms to be searched. When Joseph's running in full manic mode makes the street blur by in a busy roar of colors and then the bag of bills explodes with a red dye pack, the Safdies' Good Time is most strongly evoked.

There's plenty more to come. Joseph is going to trash a luxury hotel room in a quite original way, and invade a big wedding luncheon and put a rude speaker in his place. The adrenaline is still kicking in, with a wild ride and a bump and a fight also to come. Then a return to mum and dad. One of the triumphs of this film, which may seem alienating to many viewers, is the intimacy it nonetheless achieves at times - starting with the uncomfortable, forced intimacy of body-searching travelers.

After the return home Whishaw goes into his beautific mode, which gets an objective correlative in a group of Indian dancers in the street whose music sees out this very creative take on a familiar yet somewhat uncommon genre. A flawed but very promising beginning from Aneil Karia and another remarkable, almost sublime performance from Ben Whishaw.

This feature grew out of a short called Beat that Karia, Whishaw and movement coach Laura Williamson Biggson made earlier in which Whishaw dances spasmodically through the streets of North London, provoking people into beating him up. This explains why Surge seems like a one-man mime show or overextended short film. Truly only Ben Whishaw makes it work. But he does.

Surge, 105 mins., debuted at Sundance, Whishaw receiving a special jury award there for his performance; showing also at the Berlinale and a number of other international festivals. US release in theaters Sept. 24, 2021. On demand everywhere Sept. 25.

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