Directors’ Showcase / UK premiere

High Life

  • Gary Yates /
  • Canada, USA /
  • 2009 /
  • 78 mins

Timothy Olyphant, Joe Anderson, Stephen Eric McIntyre, Rossif Sutherland / Fiction / English

A blackly comic heist movie, from the grubby flipside of the 80s consumer dream...

“As far back as I can remember I wanted to be a lawyer.” So says Timothy Olyphant’s morphine-addict ex-con Dick in the opening moments of High Life, as the bank robbery he’s orchestrated plunges into bloody chaos. No prizes for spotting the Goodfellas tribute, and it’s a mark of the fly confidence and whip-smart comic energy of Gary Yates’ heist comedy that it can wear such references so lightly (there’s a killer Polanski in-joke later on). It’s 1983, in an unidentified North American city, and a visit from his former cellmate Bug (played with reptilian menace by Stephen Eric McIntyre) has just got Dick fired from his job as a hospital orderly. In need of money to feed his habit, Dick gets the idea to rob one of those new-fangled ATM devices. So he assembles a crew: the unstable Bug, petty thief Donnie (the ratty, charismatic Joe Anderson) and confidence trickster Billy (Rossif Sutherland, all boyish, sleepy-eyed charm). “It’s a precision job,” says Dick while shooting up the night before the heist: “No violence.” You think? Naturally things don’t turn out that way, but the unfolding catalogue of disasters that confronts Dick is never predictable, thanks to spry plotting from Lee MacDougall (based on his play) and the fleet-footed assurance of Yates’ direction. The movie combines scenes of knockabout mayhem with some superb deadpan sequences: an extended dialogue scene among the four accomplices in their getaway car immediately before the heist is a cherishable comic set-piece, filmed with spot-on restraint by Yates; and the dialogue features plenty of zingy non-sequiturs – sample this pearl of wisdom from Bug: “Just because you hit someone and they die doesn’t mean you kill them”. The results are great fun, but also rippled with a poignant, mercifully laugh-free awareness of the depths addicts will go for their next fix. A good dose of gritty panache is provided for by a soundtrack that eschews the emerging finery of New Romantic bands for the unreconstructed rock of outfits like Three Dog Night and Creedence Clearwater Revival.

2009 Archive

Image from High Life

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  • #1 Leona Campbell / Friday 19 June, 2009 / 22:42 GMT

    Tonight I managed to catch a showing of High Life and have to say it was surprising in a very nice way. Being a huge fan of all things 80's, that was my only premise for adding it to my viewing list and it really won me over. Presonally I found the start of the film a little slow, but once the 'gang' got together and the pace picked up I really enjoyed the movie and laughed my socks of at some parts of it. It has alot of those wonderful funny moments that just make you laugh at how silly life and people can get.

    It's a really good dark comedy and much more than a heist movie, it played more like a buddy movie for me. I'd highly recommend that anyone looking for a good laugh add this to your viewing list.
  • #2 Elaine Macintyre / Saturday 20 June, 2009 / 15:16 GMT

    This film really had me at hello with its tongue-in-cheek Goodfellas intro. Great characterisation, top performances, snappy script, canny use of music, Scorsese-style. Plus I'm a big fan of Timothy Olyphant in Deadwood and he's just great here!

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