ReelBob: ‘Swiss Army Man’
By Bob Bloom
“Swiss Army Man” is an eccentric and entertaining feature.
The question remains, though, what type of movie is it? A comedy? A buddy film? A treatise on loneliness? A hallucinatory journey?
The answers to all are yes — and no. And, also, maybe.
I don’t want to go into too much detail about “Swiss Army Man” because the less you know about the film, the more it will draw you in.
The film opens with Hank (Paul Dano) stranded on an island and preparing to hang himself.
But before he can complete the deed, he notices a body that has washed ashore.
The corpse is that of a young man, whom we later learn is named Manny.
Daniel Radcliffe, in an impressive physical performance, plays the body.
While talking to the body, Hank discovers that it has the ability to fart — and using the gaseous explosions as propellants, he rides Manny like a motorboat to the mainland.
Events get even weirder as Manny begins to talk. He is an innocent who knows nothing about the world.
The bulk of the movie rests with Hank explaining the ways of the world to his dead new friend, while also revealing — in bits and pieces — tidbits about his pathetic and humdrum life.
“Swiss Army Man” marks the feature-film debuts of music-video directors Daniel Scheinert and Daniel Kwan — known as DANIELS — who wrote and helmed the project.
What they lack in focus, they make up for in chutzpah. They put poor Radcliffe through much abuse, as Dano’s Hank uses Manny’s body as a fountain, a fire starter and a tool for hunting and building. He also uses Manny’s erections as a compass to point him in the right direction.
And though the movie is interesting and sucks you in, its main point seems obscured by the Daniels, who seem more interested in the cinematic rabbits they can continually pull out of their hats than in telling a straightforward story.
I laughed at many parts of “Swiss Army Man”; other portions bored me, while some actions had me squirming.
And while I followed Hank and Manny’s journey, I simply was not understanding where they were heading or why and, most importantly, what DANIELS were wanting to convey to me.
Was their theme about a need for companionship? Was this a story about allowing yourself to be emotionally exposed and vulnerable?
Who knows? And, by the finale, you really didn’t think it was that important. Was it real? Or was most of it Hank’s hallucinatory breakdown?
The body work of Radcliffe paired with the always interesting choices of Dano — who has a knack for playing susceptible and emotionally challenged characters — are what binds you to “Swiss Army Man.”
You may want to ask many questions after viewing the movie. I would suggest you just file them away and go along for the ride.
“Swiss Army Man” is a feature you should take on faith. Simply ride it like an unusual excursion at sea.
Bloom is a member of the Indiana Film Journalists Association. His reviews appear at ReelBob (reelbob.com) and Rottentomatoes (www.rottentomatoes.com). He also reviews Blu-rays and DVDs. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ReelBobBloom.
SWISS ARMY MAN
2½ stars out of 4
(R), language, sexual content