Edinburgh International Film Festival

High Life (2009)

Starring: Timothy Olyphant, Stephen Eric McIntyre, Joe Anderson, Rossif Sutherland

Directed by: Gary Yates

Rating: 1 2 3 4

Stephen Eric McIntyre and Timothy Olyphant are down on their luck in High Life

Rarely has a film had me at hello as successfully as High Life. A dishevelled, bearded Timothy Olyphant sits sweating and bug-eyed in a car, a pistol trembling in his hands. Cue the freeze-frame and the deadpan voiceover: 'Ever since I can remember, I always wanted to be a lawyer…'

Dick (the lovely Olyphant) is a genial, lackadaisical morphine addict who's making an unconvincing attempt to go straight when his psychotic ex-cellmate Bug (Stephen Eric McIntyre) gets released and blows his vague plans to hell. Bug is baffled by the wonders of the modern age (well, it is 1983) but in trying to dissuade his mucker for returning to old school, all-guns-blazing bank robbery, Dick hits on what's either the most genius or the most naively rubbish heist plot in the world ever.

Together with nervy conman Donnie (the lovely Joe Anderson – this film is full of lovely men looking crap) and smooth-talking ladies' man Billy (the utterly charming Rossif Sutherland – yet another brother of Kief) go to work.

Like Reservoir Dogs with woolly-hatted junkies, High Life is both a tense and darkly funny heist movie and a brilliant character study of dissolute undesirables who yet somehow worm their greasy way under your skin. Proving just what a versatile actor he is, Timothy Olyphant is unrecognisable as Deadwood's driven sheriff Seth Bullock, channelling Billy Bob Thornton as the hapless loser whose weakness hides a basically decent man, while newcomer Stephen Eric McIntyre gives a performance Robert Carlyle would be proud of as the unhinged, sociopathic Bug. 'Just because you hit someone and they die, it doesn't mean you killed them,' he snaps. And who's going to argue?

A use of music to signify mood that rivals Scorsese (the old cons' attempts to drown out New Order with classic '70s rock says all you need to know about their uncertain place in the brave new world of the 1980s), a (mostly) tight script and some fairly shocking twists all add up to a cracking little movie that gets the Edinburgh Film Festival off to a high flying start for me.

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