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Pickups – BFI London Film Festival Review

Pickups – BFI London Film Festival Review

When Game of Thrones ended its seventh season, it was clear that Aidan Gillen was one of the finest actors working today. He has always been consistently strong in Game of Thrones and The Wire, with excitement building for his upcoming role in Peaky Blinders. Pickups, a small production and built around Aidan Gillen is therefore a tragically wasted opportunity. It is either bad improvisation or an awkward script but this is an unfocused drag with a strange sense of confidence that only exudes arrogance and inexperience.

Aidan (Gillen) is an actor engaged in additional shooting of a film – in the industry, these are called “pickups”. He is an aging actor, past the peak of his career, but relentlessly mobbed by fans who want pictures with the faded star. The film he’s shooting is a thriller, with Aidan cast as the rapist, serial killer. He is divorced from his wife and has a teenage son who seems disinterested when he calls to say hello. Nevertheless, Aidan prepares for his role by letting his thoughts run amok and as we anticipate, he slowly becomes the serial killer. Or at least murders one friend, we think. The structure toys with what we think is real and unreal; fact and fiction. There is more than mere ambiguity in the gaps.The opening shot portrays Aidan, atop a young attractive woman, and they are midway through intercourse. He places his hands on her neck and strangles her. Cut to black. Then we’re back to the scene and Aidan speaks to the camera crew: we were watching a film scene. When we talk about how unclear the narrative is, this is the type of thing to expect. It’s all jarring cuts, unexpected sounds and multiple narrations that feel shoehorned in to clarify the uneven plot. It is supposed to be unsettling but feels amateur. Maybe that’s the point? There is one narration by an unknown voice, who explicitly details what is happening. The cinematic mantra of not saying but showing is ignored. In addition to this dull, somewhat-clipped voice, we also hear Aidan’s inner monologue.

He visits an old house, kids laugh and photos of children flash on the screen. Yup, though the narration has told us the house has memories within, we might as well get additional sounds and photos to remind us again. These are memories. The script, in its attempt at toying with truth and falsehood, never tells us the TV show this “Aidan”, played by Aidan, is in. “You’re off the telly”, etc. It’s odd; why would you approach an actor with a memorable role and never mention the role? Or a famous line? A barista, serving him the wrong coffee, should blurt out “I did warn you not to trust me”, and then move a finger across his neck. It’d be a bit much, granted, but at least he – and we – would understand the reference.

Between extended conversations on masturbation, surreal role-switches and supernatural bad spirits that plague his back, Pickups is a mess. While a murder seems to go perfectly to plan, a toke on a spliff, becomes a montage of slow motion, hazy fun that awkwardly prolongs the story. Crucially, Aidan is not interesting and scenes persist for far too long. In the moments of horror, nothing is unexpected. In the final act, we leave the urban environment and exit to the country and it is truly liberating. It would’ve been considerably more engaging if it was just Aidan and his son in the beautiful landscape of Kerry. Slow, uninventive and a tragic waste, Pickups believes it is cerebral and artistically savvy when, in fact, it is flat and grey. The bit of colour Aidan Gillen brings is lost in this monotone canvas.

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