EIFF 2013: MISTER JOHN Movie Review
Christine Malloy and Joe Lawlor unveiled the world premiere of their follow up to the brilliant but largely unseen Helen at this year’s Edinburgh Film Festival: Mister John. An offbeat, witty and original tale of identity crisis, it sees Game Of Thrones star Aiden Gillen play an Irishman living in London, Gerry, who travels to Singapore upon receiving news that his brother John has drowned.
John left his family behind many years ago and started fresh in Southeast Asia, becoming the owner of an Irish themed bar there, Mister John’s, alongside his new wife Kim with whom he had a daughter. Unhappy in his own marriage – it’s strongly suggested that either he or his wife has been unfaithful in obscure, dreamlike flashbacks – Gerry is envious of his brother’s choice to abandon everything and wipe the slate clean in this sweaty, neon-lit city.
Slowly but surely, therefore, Gerry commences taking on his deceased brother’s role in providing for both the family and the business. As he does so, he loses a grip on his former self and shifts into a new identity – captured by Malloy and Lawlor through heavy metaphor and symbolism – conflicted about whether to return to his wife and daughter or stay in this new exotic land.
Gerry’s morphing into his brother is, in concept, not unlike last year’s Edinburgh Film Festival breakout hit Berberian Sound Studio. However, while that film was nightmarish and claustrophobic, Mister John has more in common with the Coen Brothers’ A Serious Man or Barton Fink. Amid the quietly in-depth character study of Gerry there’s a lot of eccentricity, dark comedy, and the entire story is veiled in enigma.
Coupled with a great performance from Aiden Gillen – well known also for his work in The Dark Knight Rises and The Wire – Mister John makes for a delightfully unusual watch. It’s the kind of film you will want to return to again and again, not only for pleasure but equally to peel back its many layers. It’s a work of great originality proving that Christine Malloy and Joe Lawlor are indeed two of the most inspired and unique talents working in British cinema today. Let’s just hope that this time it doesn’t pass quite so under the radar.