Do you ever think about dropping everything and disappearing into the wild blue yonder?
A new name, a new backstory, a new personality even – a new life! Just like that…..
That’s what Wallace Avery (Colin Firth) does in ‘Arthur and Mike’. Fakes his death and disappears. Not randomly or haphazardly; he has a plan – maybe more of a quest – and a place to be. As Arthur Newman – old pent-up, buttoned-down staid Wallace doesn’t do imaginative, even with his reinvention as a new man – he’s on his way to be a golf pro in Terre Haute Indiana. Goodbye past, hello possibility. Simple.
Except he’s not the only one fleeing his demons. Staggering or collapsing into Arthur’s path comes a mysterious woman (Emily Blunt), sprawled on a sun lounger seemingly on the way out of not just her old life but out of life entirely. An unlikely hero but an honourable man, Arthur gets her to a hospitable and saves her life. The two – the stray and the waif – forge a bond, brittle at first but gradually deepening.
Over time and a series of adventures – what road movie doesn’t have adventures and escapades – the role of saviour and consoler switches back and forth, as both Arthur and Mike acknowledge and confront their demons.
There are some uncomfortable scenes along the way, some genuinely funny, a few very sad, and not a small number of rather sweet vignettes.
It’s not a prefect film by any means, and it doesn’t set out to be a blockbuster; the tale of two imperfect people probably never could be. It is intriguing enough to stay in the memory and provoke some reflective thoughts on what’s just played before our eyes.
One question that kept distracting me from the film was why were the two lead roles in the story of two Americans in America both filled by British actors. I’m not suggesting that roles be allocated on any kind of strict passport criteria – the key skill of acting after all being able to portray someone else who is not you – but casting of this kind can cause difficulties with believability. Relatively unknown actors can sail under the radar, and both film goers and critics may see and hear what they expect to see and hear from an American character.
But Colin Firth is too big a name and far too well-known as the quintessential Englishman not to invite, even demand, closer scrutiny, and unfortunately in this film at least his accent is not always up to scratch so as to pass muster. In fact it might be the case that his usual intonation and diction are so well-known and so familiar that no matter what he tries to do, what comes to mind will always be the distinctive voice of King George, Mr Darcy or Bridget Jones’ caddish boss.
Emily Blunt on the other hand – with a burgeoning career but not one defined, yet, by a single role, much less a specifically English/British one – carries off American tones with aplomb. Her performance is the best thing about this film by a country mile. Looking like a cross between the Girl With The Dragon Tattoo and Chloe from 24, she makes the screen her own as the kooky, impulsive, perhaps irredeemable Mike.
While it is flawed, there’s enough here to satisfy film goers who like a film a little off centre, neither sickly saccharine nor gratuitously bitter, depicting lives stained with darkness and constrained by dread, that ultimately perhaps asks as many questions of the audience as it does of the characters. As to where the answers lie, well that’s question for all of us, isn’t it?