ByBen Smith, writer at
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Ben Smith


Originally posted here.

In the intense heat and humidity of Singapore, Gerry (Aidan Gillen) attempts to resolve the business affairs of his recently deceased brother while simultaneously warring with the amorous interest of his sister-in-law, Kim (Zoe Tay). A passive presence in the unfamiliar world, Gerry is washed along by his grief, fatigue and the oppressive heat, to a reality far removed from his troubled domestic life in London. Exotic temptations awaken new desires at every turn, but he remains a bystander in his own life, simply watching as events drowsily unfold.

An absorbing experience, Mister John draws you in with its brooding inert atmosphere – a more than adequate replacement for anything in the way of narrative drive. Gillen’s turn as a man internalising a thousand thoughts is complete perfection, conveying every lustful desire, moment of dejection or domestic anxiety with an understated natural dexterity. The film lives or dies on this performance, and with such an enigmatic character of overt depth there is always something to anchor to in the meandering, calm taleCreeping with lethargy around the island a drifting camera observes Gerry with a voyeuristic eye – permitting us glimpses into his clouded head and racing thoughts whilst keeping him somewhat distant, isolated with his own inner turmoil. The film resonates with a quiet stillness enhanced by the minimal compositions of cinematographer Ole Bratt Birkeland (who also worked on Channel 4’s Utopia), allowing the smallest snapshots of Gerry’s journey to convey all the required narrative and emotion – a small change of expression, a touch of fabric, the ripples in a lake. Mister John is a film solely composed of these minute fleeting moments, and becomes all the more powerful for it. Much of its success lies with the razor sharp edit that doesn’t allow a second to be wasted, every action or glance seemingly of great importance.

The intensity of the silence and heat is dramatically counterpointed with a soaring orchestral theme by composer Stephen McKeon, so achingly heartbreaking and grand it feels monumentally out of place in the small-scale exotic noir – but for some inexplicable reason it just seems to work. Perhaps it’s the beauty of the piece itself, or the welcome sensation of being occasionally lifted above the sticky, dreamlike story. Simultaneously simplistic and mystifying, directing pair Christine Molloy and Joe Lawler have fashioned a film of real compulsive power with the most acute of strokes – and not fully revealing its impact or emotional core till the final burst of McKeon’s strings and the credits roll.


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