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One for the Road (2003)

Directed by:

Chris Cooke

Rating: 7/10

Running Time: 96 minutes

Country: United Kingdom, United States

After losing their licences for drink driving, three strangers meet on a week-long alcohol management course – but spend most of the week together in a nearby pub. Young Jimmy (Greg Chisholm) hopes to sell his late father’s warehouse and start a new business abroad with the barmaid Eve (Micaiah Dring); Paul (Rupert Proctor) is an aggressive salesman desperate to prove himself after his job and marriage have been ruined by alcoholism; and Mark (Mark Devenport) is a hopelessly laid-back dope-head who dreams of owning his own mini-cab firm. At Paul’s instigation, the three attempt to draw another coursemate, the successful retired businessman Richard Stevens (Hywel Bennetts), into a deal which will make all their fortunes, using Jimmy’s widowed mother Liz (Julie LeGrand) as bait. Yet as they pile in the drinks, allegiances shift, plans change, confidence turns to desperation, and hard truths have to be faced.

If ‘The Company of Men’ went Trainspotting in Nottingham, then the result would be something like Chris Cooke’s debut feature film ‘One for the Road’. The film, expanded from ideas in Cooke’s earlier short film ‘Shifting Units’, is a black-as-Guinness comedy of ambition, impotence and alcoholic excess. Like any long binge, it starts off with big dreams and quixotic braggadocio, and ends up staggering into the bleakest of morning-after realities.

Edited from an original 90 hours of Digital Video footage, with some scenes closely scripted and others improvised by the cast, the 96 minutes of ‘One for the Road’ might in less capable hands have been an unholy mess – but Cooke, along with cinematographer Nick Gordon-Smith and editor Nick Fenton, have developed a queazy, reeling visual language which makes the viewer feel as intoxicated as the characters themselves. The film’s opening images are so blurred and impressionistic that it is impossible to make out the faces of the people portrayed – but what can be seen (three drunken men in a swimming pool, as a fourth enters screaming and covered in blood) is enough to cast a shadow over all the scenes which follow. It may be darkly funny, but this film also becomes increasingly tense, as its events stagger inexorably towards the obscure tableau with which it opens.

The men in this film are a heady cocktail of swagger, vulnerability and need, but thanks to the mesmerisingly honest performances of the actors, misplaced sentimentality is never allowed into the mix, and the maudlin self-pity which drink so often brings quickly descends into far more unhinged self-delusion. Some lines will make you laugh, even more will make you cringe, and there is enough crisis in masculinity on display here to drive anyone to drink – even if that is a large part of the problem.

It's Got: Men in crisis, heavy drinking, big dreams, a business plan, and some very grim laughs.

It Needs: Sober reflection.

Alternatives:

Last Call, The Company of Men, Trainspotting

Summary

Idiosyncratic, black-as-Guinness comedy about ambition, impotence and alcoholic excess.

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