Directed by Ed Christmas
Starring Richard Southgate, Daniel Ormerod, Charlotte Asprey, Terry Sweeney & Simon Dobson
Film Review By Jack Bottomley
“A Story to Die For”
Journalism is a cruel, malicious and (quite often) ethics-free business, every so often someone can chase the truth and use their journalistic credentials to tell a worthwhile story or inform the public, sadly a lot of the time that is not the case. Journalism can often be a gateway to obsession, striving for fame and the erosion of our basic morality and humanity. You can literally pick up any newspaper and see such erosion or, in these easily accessible times of multimedia, you can simply search online to find folk phone filming their way to viral fame with a video- sometimes helpful often intrusive and insensitive. The pursuit of fame and/or a “juicy” story can truly twist someone into something else, and in many ways this is the whole idea that underpins Writer/producer/director Ed Christmas’ film The Man with Four Legs.
Despite sounding, if you were to take the title at face value, like a documentary about an over-limbed gentleman, this title and it’s meaning, only really comes to make sense later on. The film follows Angus (Richard Southgate), Tom (Daniel Ormerod) and Ethan (Terry Sweeney), a group of young guys with documentary aspirations. Angus has been circling a potential story that revolves around a recently released hospital patient named James (Simon Dobson), who seems to be suffering from some kind of amnesia. James was found on a street corner one night beaten over the head and all he recalls is waking up in hospital. As the morally dubious team follow James, salivating for a story, they begin to wonder just whether James’ delusions, are all that insane?
From the opening moments of this film, this reviewer was reminded a little of the- far bigger budgeted American fare- Nightcrawler (2014), and as this film progresses, it shares a similar tone with Dan Gilroy’s thriller, of going to dark lengths to follow a story. From the offset, aside from the more reserved Ethan, you take an immediate indifference towards the characters, who seem insensitive towards their troubled subject and are too taken on with banter about knobs (and we don’t mean the door opening kind) than this project. This would be a problem and initially it appears as though it may be, until you get drawn into the film and realise the purposeful construction. Christmas lures you in, not with particularly nice characters but believable figures in a realistic story of some arrogant young guys biting off more than they can chew.
As the clearly confused and fragile James struggles to understand why the people he “remembers” as his friends and family pass him in the park, these guys are more taken on with reaction shots, constructing their own spin on the narrative at home on a laptop and getting as many cameras as possible capturing their good side. Initially slow and with a little bit of a vague direction, Christmas eventually pulls the strings together and- much like Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman’s engrossing 2010 documentary Catfish (which inspired the inferior TV series)- you find yourself mulling over everything you are watching thanks to clever direction, that leaves you pondering where it is all heading. Is James right? Is this woman Sam (Charlotte Asprey - who is very good in her supporting capacity) really as baffled as she says regarding this man who claims to be her husband? At one point this writer even wondered if a Sci-Fi twist could come along. Needless to say the resolution is far more grounded in reality and tops off the film’s comment on the consequences of obsessive aspirations of journalistic fame driving you to darkness.
The twist, or more accurately payoff, may feel a little too simple for some but the budgetary constraints of Christmas’ film was always going to mean there was a limit to how far he could go but the impact is lingering. However the emotional element and almost daydream like sequences – that do admittedly jar a tad with the mockumentary style shooting style- are one of the film’s most impressive aspect and they visually enlighten the film. No doubt Director of Photography Markus Ljungberg has done a sterling job here. As has Luis Almau, whose music is enormously professional and polished and quite emotive, especially in the film’s home video sequences.
The Man with Four Legs may seem like it is going to be a bit of a chore with the leads and their braggadocios waffle but everything actually comes to fit neatly into place and, minus the odd jarring line of comedy, the script is of very good quality. However the most impressive quality is perhaps the acting, which in low budget or independent films can be wonky but here is thoroughly consistent. Richard Southgate is excellent as the self-adoring Angus, who overseas his crew and carries himself as though he is a Pulitzer Prize winner and just slumming it with these guys. Daniel Ormerod is also good as Tom, a very easily led character, who only really comes to his senses in the final stretch of the film, while Terry Sweeney offers the only likable presence of the trio, as the quietly spoken cameraman Ethan, who comes to see past the story and acknowledges the humanity of this figure. And to that point, Simon Dobson is superb as James, a truly sympathetic and believably fractured and confused soul. In fact he is the soul of the narrative.
The Man with Four Legs may have the odd flaws and some may struggle to spend time with the purposefully vane and shallow characters but that is the point! We urge you to stick with this story and like the characters themselves, you will be taken to a dark place that carries a lot of weight with the real world of viral fame and unethical journalism. A great surprise and a film that makes one think.