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Berlinale 2012 Review: 'Comes A Bright Day' A Warm, Enjoyable, Romance When It Stops Trying To Be A Thriller

The Playlist By Jessica Kiang | The Playlist February 20, 2012 at 3:03PM

Commercials director Simon Aboud takes to feature writing/directing with this London-set film detailing a young man's meet cute with the girl of his dreams, and the violent armed robbery that subsequently throws them together. If that description sounds a little schizophrenic, it's a quality that proves the film's making and its undoing; as a heightened situation that forces our leads to interact, pressure-cooker style, the robbery is an inspired setting, but when the thriller elements are foregrounded, the tonal contortions often prove too much, and the legs go from under it. However Craig Roberts, in his first lead since his breakout role in Richard Ayoade's "Submarine," heads up a totally huggable cast in Imogen Poots and Timothy Spall, with Kevin McKidd and Josef Altin (a now familiar face for "Game of Thrones" fans) on bad guy duties.
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Comes A Bright Day Craig Roberts

Commercials director Simon Aboud takes to feature writing/directing with this London-set film detailing a young man's meet cute with the girl of his dreams, and the violent armed robbery that subsequently throws them together. If that description sounds a little schizophrenic, it's a quality that proves the film's making and its undoing; as a heightened situation that forces our leads to interact, pressure-cooker style, the robbery is an inspired setting, but when the thriller elements are foregrounded, the tonal contortions often prove too much, and the legs go from under it. However Craig Roberts, in his first lead since his breakout role in Richard Ayoade's "Submarine," heads up a totally huggable cast in Imogen Poots and Timothy Spall, with Kevin McKidd and Josef Altin (a now familiar face for "Game of Thrones" fans) on bad guy duties.

Perhaps it's because of the inherent adorability of Mary (Poots) and Sam (Roberts), but in general "Comes A Bright Day" hews closer to the sweeter end of the spectrum, despite threatening us with the notion that the body count could rise at any moment. This mostly does not disrupt our enjoyment of the story, but it does put us in mind of a sweet, well brought up middle class kid trying to convince us of his badassery by wearing his jeans low and trailing chains from his belt: you kind of want to take the film aside and tell it it doesn't have to try so hard to be edgy, we like it for what it really is. This edginess is mostly down to the always reliable Kevin McKidd to engender, as the true psycho of the criminal duo, Cameron (in a jokey reference to British politics, the armed robbers choose the aliases Cameron and Clegg). And while the Virgin Mary-masked McKidd does some sterling work and creates the film's only moments of genuine menace, evenness of tone is not helped by a conceit which sees him occupy a different physical space from the rest of the cast for a large portion of the film. This means that the psychological journey he goes on is a solo one, and cutting to his troubled character fixating and fantasising feels jarring, the more so for the storytelling, getting-to-know-you vibe in the next room over.

Comes A Bright Day Timothy Spall

And while the film toys with, but then thankfully avoids, the idea of his redemption, its mission to psychologise him simply feels a little misguided, a subplot that doesn't in any way inform the main thrust of the narrative. Back in the other room, however, the three-way bond that is slowly cemented between Sam, Mary and Charlie (Spall) forms the big, warm heart of the film, and all three leads are so eminently watchable that it's a wrench to leave them. Roberts, playing a character a little less deluded than his Oliver in "Submarine" brings a kind of Martin Freeman-style hangdog everyman feel to the role, while Poots' Mary is nearly too good to be true before she reveals a certain unexpected steeliness to her core. Spall, naturally, schools everyone in sight, running the gamut from pompous buffoon to grieving widower to fairy godfather and making it look effortless. Altin, too gives a detailed, believable performance, but it's the central trio the film has us fall in love with.

If it weren't already obvious, the film's happy ending, in which everything works out really rather brilliantly for our young hero, lets slip its true intentions. With the sole exception of Cameron, everyone turns out to be decent -- lovely, in fact -- even a minor character who is the subject of a rather pointless reveal as to his familial relationship to one of our principals. It's narratively unnecessary, but not only is his goodness revealed to the audience, it is reiterated to Sam: this is a film that can't bear to have one of its beloved characters think badly of another for more than a minute or two. And if this impossibly neat, upbeat ending sells out the screenplay's edgier impulses entirely (spare a thought for the person who dies early on, valiantly sacrificing themselves for screenwriting purposes), it also give us pretty much what we want, by that stage: a lot of people we like taking care of each other. Maybe if the characters were darker, the romance more bittersweet or the thriller elements funnier, the various strands would more consistently meet in the middle and the gear changes wouldn't grind quite so much. As it is "Comes a Bright Day" struggles against, but then gives in to its better nature and emerges a fond, character-driven confection, in which the tartness of the premise is overpowered by the sweetness of its aftertaste. [B-]

This article is related to: Review, Comes A Bright Day, Berlin International Film Festival


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