Based on the acclaimed novel by Nick Hornby, A Long Way Down follows closely four strangers who happen to meet on the roof of a London building on New Year's Eve, each with the intent of committing suicide. Their plans for death in solitude are ruined, so they mutually agree to call off their plans for six weeks, forming an unconventional, dysfunctional family and searching together for the reasons to keep on living.
I'm no scholar of Nick Hornby, but I certainly love the film and television adaptations of his books. I was first introduced to him in 2004 when a friend showed me 'High Fidelity' and 'About A Boy.' Yes, I was way late in discovering the greatness of 'High Fidelity,' but that's the one that completely sold me on Hornby's ability to tell an easily relatable human tale. I walked away from that movie thinking, 'If I was a creative enough writer to produce my own original stories, that is one that I could have written.' 'Fever Pitch' wasn't bad – especially considering how much I dislike Jimmy Fallon – and 'An Education' is a very strong drama. And the most recent 'About A Boy' television series has become one of the best half-hour comedies to air since 'Community' was canceled. Featuring great actors and a story concept that seems just as easy to connect to as any of the previous Hornby adaptations, 'A Long Way Down' has the potential to be another great achievement to add to his credentials – but it's not. Au contraire, it's easily the weakest Hornby story to be brought to the screen yet.
'A Long Way Down' tells the story of four unlikely characters who have two things in common: one, each is severely depressed; two, that depression is so strong that they each feel inclined to toss themselves from the same London rooftop on New Year's Eve - which is where the four strangers meet. Not wanting to jump with an audience, none of them follow through with their tragic plans. After leaving the rooftop in complete embarrassment and shame, they run into one another once again in the rainy streets below. The more time they spend together, the more their characters connect. Before long, they come to the realization that what they individually need to keep living is one another, so they form a pact that not commit suicide before Valentine's Day (February 14) just to see if they can make it out of their depressed ruts and find more reasons for living. The formatting of the narrative is a little unique. Each quarter of the linear film is told from the perspective of a specific character. The first section is told entirely by Pierce Brosnan's character, the second part is told by the character of Imogen Poots, the third section is told by Aaron Paul and the final by Toni Collette.
As we learn about their characters, we are slowly told their reasons for wanting to kill themselves in such a dramatic fashion. The reasons for them doing so are interesting, with the exception of Pierce Brosnan's. His is the only one that doesn't seem fitting for the story at hand. Those of Poots, Collette and Paul are all very much something it an everyday viewer can understand, but Brosnan's requires you to forgive him for a slimy mistake and a sexual crime.
While I like all four of these principle actors and three of their characters, I think what 'A Long Way Down' is lacking is a story that's fitting for them. These characters work just fine as a collective foursome, but there's a relatability that's lacking within their stories. It's not fleshed out, which leaves it feeling like an early draft or an unfinished screenplay.
Going back to the actors, if anything works in this film, it's them. Each delivers their characters' full potential, even though that potential isn't as high as it would be in, say, a different Hornby story. Brosnan does just fine with what he has to play with, although I don't think his character was fitting of the story. Toni Collette is wonderful in everything she does. This being her second Hornby roll (the first being in 'About A Boy'), she's just as great. Imogen Poots, who I think is a very talented and very fun to watch up-and-coming young actress, is excellent in 'A Long Way Down.' Aaron Paul, whom I've been following since 'Breaking Bad,' also delivers a very good performance. If you saw his work in the Sundance title 'Smashed,' then you know that he's capable of playing more than just Jesse Pinkman. 'A Long Way Down' continues to show that.
If you, like me, have become a fan of Hornby's film and screen adaptations and are curious about how 'A Long Way Down' plays out and fits into his cannon, I recommend giving it a shot – but go in with very, very low expectations. It's not a crowdpleaser; it's not one that you'll want to revisit again and again; it's not very satisfying; and it's definitely not one that you'll want to add to your Blu-ray collection, but it's worth watching once just to satisfy the curiosity. You'll see what works in this Hornby film, as well as what doesn't work at all. The concept is strong enough to warrant a brilliant little film, but the story used doesn't meet the potential of the concept. So much more could have been achieved had this story been fleshed out a little bit better and made more intimate and not so superficial.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Magnolia has placed 'A Long Way Down' on a Region A BD-25 that's housed in an eco-Elite blue keep case. Upon inserting the disc, you will watch a forced Magnolia vanity reel and commentary disclaimer, followed by skippable trailers for 'Two Faces of January,' 'Frontera,' 'Filth' and 'Frank,' as well asChidio and AXS.TV commercials.
'A Long Way Down' features a 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 video and code with a 2.35:1 aspect ratio. Like the movie itself the video is filled with potential, but doesn't quite hit it. It has its high points, but it ultimately lacks during the most important moments. The problems stem from two things: low budget and disk size.
Although shot with digital cameras that allow for optimal clarity and detail, there are many bad moments in this film that use green screen. The low-budget digitally created cityscapes and stormy effects that are applied to the green screen background are very cheap-looking. To put it simply, they look awful. Artifacts and bands abound in the poor computer generated backdrop. Why the rooftop – which is arguably the most important location of the film – was shot on green screen is beyond me. Couldn't they find a several-story-tall building in London that was safe enough to shoot on?
Outside of those scenes, the video quality can look very strong. The fine details of clothing, facial textures, hairs and pores are all highly detailed invisible. There's a nice sharpness to everything that doesn't have CG in it. Midway through the movie, the foursome vacations to a beautiful beach getaway. Everything shot there is so clean, crisp and clear that it looks like it could be a commercial for that actual resort. It's gorgeous.
The smaller-than-average disc size makes way for some inconsistent flaws. As previously mentioned, artifacts and bands appear in the CG backdrops. Contrast isn't always great and black levels suffer, even crushing throughout. Aliasing and noise are not an issue.
'A Long Way Down' carries a 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track, but it also suffers due to the movie's low budget.
From the very beginning of the movie, it's obvious that effects can be strongly mixed within this track. For example, an ambulance siren images up the left side speakers from back to front, which is when it actually appears on screen. The timing is impeccable. Unfortunately, the whole mix doesn't carry that delicate and devoted attention. Just moments later, it's pouring movie-set rain that just might be heavier and more dense than any movie-set rain before it. A scene takes place within Brosnan's car as the foursome travels through this downpour. We can see the water cascading down the windshield, so thick that it's hard to see Collette's face through it, yet there's almost no rain effects whatsoever. What sounds like a light pitter-patter should be a continuous pounding on the rooftop. Another similar, but more obvious, account of this happens while the group vacations. As they drink and dance in an oceanside bar/club, the volume of the house music is very low. The characters speak very loudly, as if to make themselves audible over the blaring music – only the music's not blaring at all. They're yelling, but it's all for naught.
Not including that volume flub, there's another odd music moment that I'll mention despite it possibly being a directorial decision. If it is, I'd be curious to hear why that decision was made. In the 30th minute, the music abruptly cuts out and stops entirely. It's jostling. But other than that, music is always spread throughout the channels. Vocals are very clean and audible, although they carry rough and occasionally harsh attributes of the locations in which the scenes are set – but being a cheap indie movie, mildly raw audio is to be expected.
'A Long Way Down' is a potential-filled dark comedy that misses the mark with both darkness and comedy. The concept of four suicidal strangers who become friends when they unexpectedly end up on the same London rooftop is promising. The opening of the film is great, but it's a slow descent to the pavement below from there. What follows storywise doesn't match the desired tone of the film, resulting in a screenplay that feels like a rough draft. Magnolia must have known that this movie wasn't a sure thing because it quickly and quietly moved from its limited-screen release to Blu-ray, where they didn't even bother giving it a proper size disc. The video quality can be sharp, but ultimately lacks due to low production value and compression flaws. The audio can be decent, but lacks the love and care that takes sound to the next level. Plenty of short little special features are included, but none of them are meaty. While I truly looked forward to this release in anticipation of it becoming Nick Horby's next great adaptation, I was wrong. Give it a shot if you're curious, but definitely don't go in with high hopes.