This article is a review of MISTER JOHN.
19 August 2013
By Hemanth Kissoon
“Don’t be surprised if you’re not fully yourself,” Doctor (Maryanne Ng) to Gerry Devine (Aidan Gillen)
Grandiose, ominous music greets us. A lake in a beautiful Singaporean landscape. The camera skims the water. A flip-flop floats, leading to a man laying face down. It is John Devine, an ex-pat who has made a life for himself in Asia. His brother Gerry flies out from London at the news. MISTER JOHN might have been a travelogue of revenge à la GET CARTER or THE LIMEY, or Westerners causing mayhem in the vein of ONLY GOD FORGIVES. Instead this film is a gently paced look at family, and various kinds of grief.
Gerry had never visited John at his sibling’s adopted country. He identifies the body at the morgue, where he meets John’s widow Kim (Zoe Tay). Welcoming and kind, she offers him to come and stay at their home, and then the use of the second car. Gerry at first declines the invitation, wanting space at a hotel. Ignoring calls from his wife, we get over the course of the film images of his British home overlaid by the sound of arguments. It is unclear what they are at loggerheads over, but Gerry is clearly escaping from a fractious home life. Writer-directors Joe Lawlor and Christine Molloy, who made the taciturn and moving HELEN, still retain their economy of cinema language and spoken dialogue, but infuse MISTER JOHN with a warmth and tenderness, as well as regret – don’t worry, they haven’t gone all mawkish.
At the hotel Gerry has a bizarrely humorous encounter with a friendly drunken john, who knew his brother, and a prostitute; the latter chastely ends up staying in his room. The incident is a catalyst for Gerry moving in with his brother’s wife and teenage daughter. And this begins the lead subsuming himself into John’s life. Initially, it is just the graciousness of the host telling him to sleep in their bedroom. However, it is Gerry’s lost luggage, meaning he has to wear John’s clothes, where style, as it were, and vicarious living meet. There is mutual attraction between Kim and John, Singapore is exotic and sunny, and “Mister John’s” – his brother’s bar - is an exciting job. The film focuses on Gerry’s tangle of conflicting emotions and desires, and his attempts to unravel; all while a melancholy sits on him.
The filmmakers thankfully never give easy answers, nor portray relationships and choices as clear-cut. The only major criticism is that at times the narrative has a disjointed tenor, scenes having a random feel. Perhaps the directors wanted the audience to be a little discombobulated like their lead? There is a seedy undercurrent to proceedings, which keeps MISTER JOHN from being a languorous journey.