Published Jan 14, 2010Opening up with a mid-climax shootout with the voiceover, "I'd always wanted to be a lawyer," High Life follows films like Reservoir Dogs, Before the Devil Knows You're Dead and many others in foreshadowing doom, deterioration and narrative deliberateness, only with slightly more humour and ease.
Where most films of this ilk tend to glamorize the criminal life, concerned primarily with stylization over intended message, Gary Yates's low-key winner succeeds in showing just how pathetic this lifestyle can be while exploiting idiosyncratic character interplay.
Adapted from Lee MacDougall's award-winning play, this pithy, twisty 78-minute film follows Dick (Timothy Olyphant), a recent ex-con, and his significantly less stable buddy Bug (Stephen Eric McIntyre), as they devise a plan to rob some newfangled ATM machines in the early '80s. High on morphine and rocking out to April Wine, they enlist the seriously ill Donnie (Joe Anderson) and pretty boy Billy (Rossif Sutherland) to deal with any face-to-face interactions.
Of course, things don't go as planned, which is to be expected from a gang of junkies unable to conceptualize a future beyond their next bump, resulting in increasingly amusing and ridiculous scenarios.
Since it's Canadian, there is a boxed in, Foolproof vibe that gives it a cult sensibility rather than that of a blockbuster. Structurally, this is of benefit, as the film festival hit delivers its strongest punches and black humour when characters pick at each other's insecurities and reveal their own antisocial behaviour. We're not spoon-fed unnecessary exposition, as brief connecting shots of inappropriate washroom flirtations and silent reactions fill in gaps sufficiently.
Treading on conventional waters, High Life is probably more surprising than it is great, but bang on performances, tragic dark comedy and an aversion to unnecessary embellishment should make this one a quiet favourite amongst a select, primarily male, group. (Union)