Genre: Comedy, Crime, Thriller
Directed by: Marjane Satrapi
Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Gemma Arterton, Anna Kendrick, Jacki Weaver
For the most part, Ryan Reynolds’ recent back catalogue reads like nothing more than a what’s what of creative crap; predominantly comprised of rubbish rom-coms and failed franchises. Such disastrous endeavours inevitably stem from an evermore-sterile studio system that’s primarily concerned with the star’s bankability, and less caring about the shackles they place on his acting abilities. Really, it’s only when Reynolds has been free to explore the more imaginative realms of independent cinema that he’s managed to make his mark on the screen.
The Voices, a brilliant blackly comic thriller from indie director Marjane Satrapi (Persepolis), is possibly Reynolds’ most impressive project to date. He plays Jerry, an amiable and unassuming soul who suffers from schizophrenia. With the help of his psychiatrist (Jacki Weaver, underused), and guidance gathered from the conversations he has with his flagitious cat Mr. Whiskers and faithful dog Bosco (both charismatically voiced by Reynolds as well), Jerry attempts to catch the eye of the gorgeous Fiona (Gemma Arterton, fun and flirty). However, things take a turn for the murderous after she fails to show up for their first date.
The deliriously dark spirit of the Coen Brothers can clearly be seen throughout The Voices. The small-town American setting and exaggerated use of blood splatter brings to mind the memories of Blood Simple and Fargo, whilst the closing musical number feels like it could have been ripped straight from The Big Lebowski. Despite the murky material there’s a feverish sense of fun to be found here, particularly in the scenes between Jerry and his pets. The dialogue from Michael R. Perry’s script is at times wonderfully witty, with all the best lines naturally being saved for the feral and ferocious Mr. Whiskers, a character who excellently epitomises the controlling nature many perceive cats to have.
Satrapi’s decision to have Reynolds take the lead role may look like a marketing ploy, but it’s actually a stroke of casting genius. The director plays on her actor’s innate charm and good looks to serve as the perfect veil for his character’s psychotic tendencies, just as Alfred Hitchcock did with Anthony Perkins in Psycho.
Reynolds clearly relishes the chance to be let loose, and tucks in to the role with gusto. Though there are certainly parallels to be drawn between Perkins’ Norman Bates and Jerry, what sets them apart is the way Reynolds effectively manages to make Jerry someone you care about. He’s not simply presented as a deranged psychopath driven by murderous intentions, but as a flawed human being wrestling with his own demons whilst generally trying to do the right thing.
What makes The Voices suffer is its unbalanced tone. On the one hand, this is a deliriously demented black comedy enriched with a consistently creepy manner, plenty of gratuitous gore, and the severed heads of Jerry’s victims serving up sarcasm while they sit in the fridge. But on the other, you get a clear indication that Satrapi believes her film to hold a higher purpose, with the compounding of two differently textured tableaux and inclusion of darkly dramatic flashbacks acting as an apparent insight in to a schizophrenic mind where the lines between what is real and what isn’t have been distorted.
That it works far better as the former rather than the latter will be of little surprise to anyone. The Voices may be as unhinged as its main character, but it’s also likely to be one of the most tremendously twisted films you’ll see this year.