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New Release Review - Mister John

An Irishman visits Singapore for his brother's funeral and attempts to take his place.


Directed by: Joe Lawlor, Christine Molloy
Starring: Aidan Gillen, Claire Keelan, Zoe Tay, Michael Thomas


Following his brother John's death by drowning, Irishman Gerry (Gillen) flies to Singapore to help John's widow, Kim (Tay), with the funeral arrangements and the running of 'Mister John's', the bar the couple ran together. Before he left home, Gerry had just been made aware of his wife's affair with another man and so is glad of the opportunity to get away, despite such grim circumstances. In Singapore, Gerry discovers his brother's life was far more interesting than his own humdrum, stress filled existence. The locals hero-worshiped John and seem to expect Gerry to now fill his brother's shoes, an idea Gerry increasingly becomes tempted by.
In the past couple of years, we've seen a growing trend of Western European film-makers heading abroad for their productions, filming in locales more visually interesting than their homeland, whilst taking advantage of economic incentives. So far, it's wielded positive results; Peter Strickland's 'Katalin Varga' and 'Berberian Sound Studio' (Romania and Italy respectively), Gareth Edwards' 'Monsters' (Mexico), Gareth Evans' 'The Raid' (Indonesia) and, debatable, Nicholas Winding Refn's 'Only God Forgives' (Thailand). In a couple of weeks we'll also see Sean Ellis' Philippines set 'Metro Manila'.
The Irish husband and wife duo of Joe Lawlor and Christine Molloy are the latest to pack their bags for more exotic climes, setting their second feature in Singapore. As a result they've made a film far more visually arresting than any film ever shot in their native Ireland.
'Mister John' borrows heavily from various sources, yet never feels remotely stale or cliched. The contrast between the shy, retiring Gerry and the ultra-charismatic, almost mythical John is a descendant of the dynamic between Joseph Cotten and Orson Welles in Carol Reed's 'The Third Man'. A supernatural sub-plot suggesting Gerry's suicide can resurrect his brother's spirit reminds us of  Robin Hardy's 'The Wicker Man', as we begin to question the Singapore natives' reasons for coaxing Gerry into sticking around, and Gerry himself begins to consider it may be a sacrifice worth making, given the love so many seem to have for his brother. The way the film deals with Gerry's naive attitude towards the prominence of the sex trade in his late brother's adopted country (the pub of the title is merely a front for prostitution) recalls Kubrick's 'Eyes Wide Shut'. Lastly, Gerry's comical attempts to recover a debt from an ex-pat German are similar to Jean-Pierre Leaud's bumbling stint as a private investigator in Truffaut's 'Stolen Kisses'.
These, admittedly presumed on my part, influences blend together brilliantly into one of the most captivating films of the year. Gillen is an actor you'll likely have seen in a variety of small supporting roles but here shows he's a charismatic leading man, even when playing a character who essentially lacks such an attribute. We find ourselves backing his attempts to fill his brother's large shoes, even though we can see it all ending in disaster.
Lawlor and Molloy's previous film, 'Helen', featured a teenage girl who, when asked by the police to play the part of a murder victim for a crime scene recreation, becomes obsessed with the dead girl. The subject of assuming someone else's identity is obviously one the married duo are heavily interested in. It's often said that the best film-makers essentially make the same film over and over again through their careers and, if this is the case, I look forward to further explorations of this theme from Lawlor and Molloy.
8/10


Eric Hillis

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