One of the most versatile actors of his generation is Ben Whishaw. The British actor can seamlessly transition from TV - from the very English The Hour, to his role in the current series of Fargo - to film - from his lucrative appearance in the Bond franchise as the latest incarnation of Q, to more intimate fair - like his starring role in this British independent feature.
Here he turns his hand, and the rest of his body, to playing the socially lost Joseph, as we follow his descent into a troubling state of mind over a 24-hour period in London.
Working security at Stantead airport is Joseph (Wishaw). It is a position that offers him very little in the way of job satisfaction, as he goes through the motions of searching passengers day in, day out. Unfortunately for Joseph, his personal life is hardly a joyful experience either; his relationship with his parents is particularly strained, with his father especially struggling to contain his bitter disappointment for his son.
It’s whilst at work however, that Joseph is mentally tipped over the edge, sending him spiralling out of control, on a path that not only sees him behave completely out of character, but one that can be detrimental to him both mentally and physically.
British writer-director Aneil Karia’s debut feature is a difficult watch, much of which is down to the brilliance of his star Whishaw. His performance is a concentrated study of a man’s descent into mental instability, as he casts off his mundane life for something far more exciting.
In a sense, Whishaw goes through a transformation, emerging from a dull existence in his everyday chrysalis into something far more vibrant. This transformation comes at a cost however, as the person Joseph becomes in the process is far from being a stable member of society.
Karia’s film would no doubt have been quite bleak to watch without Whishaw’s involvement, but with it, he just takes it to a darker, more intriguing level. It’s the type of performance that can make an audience uncomfortable from the off, and keep them there, like emotional hostages against their will to the very end.
It’s no surprise to see in the credits that a movement coach was involved, as Whishaw performs with his entire body, giving him the kind of physical articulation that you would only expect from playing with an Action Man figure. There are many scenes of him on the busy streets of London, with his limbs constantly moving as if performing urban expressive dance. It makes for a disquieting and yet compelling performance, from a talent clearly on top of his game.
Karia does well to keep up with him, although the middle part of the film occasionally feels like a homage to The Verve’s classic 1997 hit “Bitter Sweet Symphony”, with the camera following Joseph’s path through the streets of London.
The journey he takes the audience on however, is an interesting one. There’s certainly an argument for the film addressing issues around mental health, but at the same time, it could also be argued that the main protagonist’s actions liberate him for the very first time, as he finally understands what it means to be living, albeit at a cost.
The film is an intense experience, no doubt heightened by a remarkable Whishaw, who truly gets under the skin of his character, exposing the raw, dormant emotions that have been suppressed up until this point.
It may not be the easiest of films to sit through, but there’s no doubt that Whishaw will keep you glued right up to the final frame.