Never let it be said that post-Harry Potter, Daniel Radcliffe went for the safe choices or the easy options. From his stage performance in Equus, through the black comedy of Horns, via the gothic horror of The Woman in Black, he has compiled an impressive and eclectic anti-Potter C.V. His latest outing, Swiss Army Man, is a film like no other, boasting a bizarre premise and two strong central performances from Radcliffe and Paul Dano.
We meet Hank (Paul Dano), marooned in the wilderness and on the verge of suicide. Just as he is about to end it all, he spots a dead body. He quickly befriends his posthumous new acquaintance, ‘Manny’ (Radcliffe), and enlists his help to return home. Manny, as it turns out, is a pretty utilitarian cadaver. His multiple uses help Hank to light fires, chop wood, get a drink of water and even shave, thus becoming the titular Swiss Army Man. But beyond Manny’s practical applications, the two men bond, and Hank’s lonely existence finds some meaning through their friendship.
Swiss Army Man is essentially your classic buddy movie, albeit told via one of the strangest movie ideas in recent times. The merging of fantasy and reality brings us the tale of a relationship between a damaged man and a severely flatulent corpse, as Hank and Manny navigate the woodlands in search of civilisation. Amidst some existential discourse, there is a surprisingly poignant rendition of Rednex’s “Cotton Eye Joe”… and there are also a lot of fart and dick jokes.
Radcliffe is excellent as Manny, finding no hindrance in his immobility, and acting almost exclusively via facial movement. His hilarious innocence is a nice counterpoint to Hank’s attempts to be worldly wise. Paul Dano is no stranger to playing the oddball either, and he too excels, never losing our sympathy for Hank’s confused, nervous loner.
If comparison is needed, then Swiss Army Man shares some common ground with Paul King’s underrated 2009 comedy drama Bunny & The Bull. Both employ a light touch, outsider art-inspired set design and a dose of magical realism to overlay a melancholy centre.
Although daring and original by design, Swiss Army Man does falter on occasion. At times the lines between reality and fantasy blurs too much, leaving us unaffected in moments of jeopardy and unsure of how much weight certain developments hold.
Equally sad as it is funny, Swiss Army Man’s concept might be bonkers, but its central theme of friendship is universal. It’s likely to be a divisive film; you may well exit the cinema unsure as to whether you even liked it. But let the movie sit with you. Let it seep in. If you can get on board with it, there is an eccentric, original movie to be enjoyed here.
THE REEL SCORE: 8/10