Directed by: #DanThorburn
Trucker’s Atlas opens with two power-line repair men working in silence, a rural UK countryside providing the backdrop. Before long, a melancholic acoustic guitar begins to play in and you’d be forgiven for drawing parallels to Mackenzie Crook’s seminal slice of life show, Detectorists. However, this is where the similarities end. The aforementioned Detectorists hones in on the mundane lives of two middle-aged men, balancing the bleak with moments of comic levity. Trucker’s Atlas, however, does not trade any of its melancholy for happiness, opting not to settle on a reflective exploration of the mundanity these two men face and instead choosing to probe deeper.
The film focuses on the two protagonists, played by Neil Bell and Kris Hitchen, as they head to their next job. As they drive to the next repair, Mike (Bell), picks up a card from the dashboard that welcomes him back to work and offers condolences for his loss. They continue to carry out the rest of this job, for the most part, in silence. Writers Jack Sherratt and Dan Thorburn have used this dull setting to tackle themes such as masculinity and our inherited, outdated expectation that men should carry grief with them and repress it so as not to appear weak and they have done so in an impactful, concise and seemingly effortless way.
As to be expected from such experienced performers, Bell and Hitchen are superb in their roles. With little dialogue at their disposal, the two rely on their arsenal of downtrodden, hardened looks to convey the hidden sadness trapped within them. However, it is when dialogue comes in that the fireworks go off. After a long stretch of silence, it feels like an explosion of catharsis for both the characters and the audience as the two men finally release what they’ve been holding on to. It is emotional cinema that is sold completely by its believable central performances.
What makes this impact bigger is the incredible sound design. As they go about their work together, every single footstep, every rattle of a tool, every rung of a ladder as it’s climbed can be heard. This serves to make the tension between the two so much more palpable, magnifying the unwillingness to communicate to one another and puts the audience in the situation with them. Talking to one another will only help them, so why aren’t they? By now, we all know the answer to that question.
Moreover, Trucker’s Atlas is also very pretty. It is stunningly shot, the lighting is immaculate, director Dan Thorburn’s shot choices are gentle and reflective and there is one scene towards the middle that proves difficult to watch but ultimately encapsulates the frustration and tension seen throughout. Perhaps the only qualm that can be found is that some of the characters’ exposition can feel unnatural, though this can be expected from a film clocking in at just over ten minutes.
While the tone and themes of the film are melancholic, that isn’t to say that it is bleak or depressing; quite the opposite, in fact. Sherratt and Thorburn have somehow managed to do the impossible. They have focused in on two middle-aged men that are grappling with great grief, they tackle men’s unhealthy perception of what is expected of their emotions and they have made it a mostly silent film and yet the overall feeling that the viewer will come away with is that of hope; a sense of positivity and reassurance. It is an impressive and professional piece of cinema that has a message and conveys it concisely and with great skill.