The film: Dead Bodies (2003)
The Principals: Andrew Scott (Tommy McGann), Katy Davis (Jean Goodman), Kelly Reilly (Vic McCormack), Darren Healy (Noel), Sean McGinley (Detective Inspector Wheeler). Directed by Robert Quinn
The Premise: Tommy McGann lives in a pretty shitty flat with his pet bearded dragon (the real kind, not the animated Pete’s kind). After getting trashed and crashing at a party the night before, Tommy comes home to find his smothering, self-centered, annoying, bitchy ex-girlfriend Jean has forced herself back into his flat – as well as back into their ex-relationship – due to a falling out with her mum. Understandably, Tommy isn’t quite receptive to the idea, though he appears to be quite receptive to her vagina. Eventually though, her presence is just too much to bear (as is her insistence that Tommy’s dragon is a lizard) and the two explode into a major argument that results in airborne projectiles aimed at Tommy’s head. In an attempt to remove himself from the volatile atmosphere produced by the bitch storm, Tommy pushes his newly ex-ex-ex girlfriend out of the way and heads to the gym to work out his frustrations.
Upon his return home, Tommy discovers that his simple attempt to push Jean out of the way when he left apparently caused her to fall and crack her head open…which then resulted in her complete deadness on his living room floor. Afraid that the police won’t believe it was an accident, Tommy freaks out and convinces his best friend Noel to help him get rid of the body. In a remote spot in the middle of the woods, Tommy starts digging his hidey-hole for depositing corpses. There’s only one problem – there appears to already be the skeletal remains of another woman already in his make-shift burial plot. Aghast but undaunted, Tommy makes the two share a room at the Hotel Wormfeast and then heads to the police station to report that Jean is missing.
As the days progress, the police begin to investigate Jean’s disappearance while Tommy tries to put the whole sordid string of events behind him. He eventually starts spending time with Viv – a psychology major who happened to be friends with Jean. The two start off dancing around their mutual attraction, but eventually grow closer as they spend more time together.
But what passes for fun for friendly couples in Ireland doesn’t last long, as Detective Inspector Wheeler soon brings Tommy in for questioning. The authorities have found Jean’s body, as well as the body of her new roommate. Turns out that the corpse of not-Jean used to be the wife of local politician Gordon Ellis. As an added twist, DI Wheeler just happened to be assigned to that case several years ago when Ellis’ wife was reported missing. Wheeler puts the pressure on Tommy as the killer of both women, but Tommy (truthfully) insists that he doesn’t know Ellis’ wife and (not-truthfully) denies any involvement with Jean’s death. Without evidence or a confession, Tommy is let go.
Only to be visited by Wheeler at his flat not long after Tommy returns from Jean’s funeral some time later. Based on an “anonymous tip” that Wheeler received he manages to find an obviously-planted picture of the late politician’s wife in the flat that suggests an acquaintance between Tommy and the late Mrs. Ellis. Tommy is once again brought in for questioning, and once again pulls of the amazing feat of lying and telling the truth simultaneously.
Once again released because apparently you can’t be held on suspicion in Ireland as long as you keep saying you didn’t do it, Tommy heads to the restroom to evacuate everything that has been scared out of him. Before he can leave, Gordon Ellis walks in and immediately threatens Tommy, promising that he’ll go to jail for both murders. And since it’s already been made pretty clear that no one in this film makes good decisions, Tommy decides that the only way to fix this new problem is to sneak into the politician’s house at night, stage his attempted suicide, and leave a note implicating Ellis as the murderer.
Surprisingly, this also doesn’t go according to ridiculous plan. As Tommy and Noel try to string the soon-to-be-or-not-to-be late Mr. Ellis up in an overcomplicated plot to make his faux-suicide look like a failed hanging after a failed overdose, Wheeler shows up to snoop around. Noel and Tommy hide while Wheeler lets himself in to Ellis’ home. There, he reveals to the semi-conscious Ellis – in yet another twist – that he knew all along that Ellis murdered his own wife. With all the pieces already set in place for him, Wheeler continues the charade – killing Ellis and finishing the suicide note.
Tommy and Noel manage to escape back to Tommy’s flat soon afterward. With the case apparently closed and Tommy off the hook, he decides to quit beating around the bush with his feelings for Viv and finally get to beating around Viv’s bush. They make their way back to his flat for what has to be some super-satisfying “I just got away with accidental murder and accidental attempted murder while also getting rid of that annoying bitch Jean” coitus. That euphoria is short-lived, however, when Tommy discovers a final twist in the film that would make Shyamalan complain about overuse.
Is It Good? I’ve been thinking about this film a lot since I saw it over the weekend (which is always a good sign for movies, as that’s something they should inspire). The reason I say this is because I’ve been wracking my brain trying to decide whether or not to call it good, based on my experience watching it. I know, I know… this should be a relatively easy thing to decide. Usually, after you finish watching a movie, you either like it or you don’t. You figure out the whys and the hows of that feeling later once you have a chance to ruminate on the experience.
And at first I thought I had my answer as soon as the credits started to roll. I don’t know if it was just me or if it’s because of that curse a leprechaun put on me so many years ago or that I like more entertainment in my films, but honestly – I really didn’t find Dead Bodies to be all that good. I tried to like it. My girlfriend really enjoyed it, and although I find her tastes suspect at times, occasionally she surprises me with a good call when it comes to film (she likes the Resident Evil film series, so take from that what you will). I mean, it has Andrew Scott in it, and he’s liquid gold in a fireworks matrix as Moriarty on Sherlock. And yet, as I sat there on the couch while the white letters slowly made their way up my TV screen, I found myself disappointed – my mind made up that Dead Bodies is not a very good film.
But then I spent the next couple of days thinking about it.
After weighing several factors and giving the film a fair chance to ferment a little in my noggin, I think I have come to a more sincere and better conclusion. I still don’t think Dead Bodies is a very good film, BUT… that comes with a couple of caveats.
First off, I think part of why the film didn’t sit well with me after first watching it is because I went into it with the wrong mindset and with the wrong expectation. I watched Dead Bodies through Amazon (my girlfriend purchased it), and one of the first things I did was read the synopsis that Amazon supplies you with. This led to a misunderstanding that misinformed me to the movie I was about to watch and what I think ultimately led to the misalignment of my feelings for the film.
Amazon called it a “black comedy”.
Dead Bodies is in no way a black comedy. Sure, there is some humourous dialogue peppered throughout the film (most of the heavy lifting done by Scott, natch), but at no point in the film are any of the situations or actions on screen delivered in a manner that you could derive any dark humour from. The content is played straight, while the conversations around it all are filled with words of wry wit that might make you chuckle. Even online reviews and various other mentions of the movie only list it as a psychological thriller, crime drama, or combination of those four words. You know what words are missing? Any combination of black and comedy.
But while my realization that I went into the Dead Bodies with the wrong set of glasses has improved my overall view of the film, I still don’t think it’s very good. The movie has problems on its own that keep it from being better. And it’s kind of a shame, as it has plenty of potential.
The main issue I had with the movie is this – in its short running time of 88 minutes, what could be a simple, concise, and solid plot on its own also contains unnecessary sub-plots derived from needless character motivations that aren’t fleshed out very well and are poorly managed. This also results in extra twists that add nothing to the success of the main plotline. I mean, the movie starts off pretty well with a simple, accidental murder that spirals out of control just fine all on its own. But once the writers start cramming in ulterior motives from romantic interests, Inspector Detectives with a hastily cobbled together back story that only serves to throw extra tension and complication into the fray, and a random side-plot about an angry grocery store boss, the film quickly gets bogged down with extra baggage that muddles up the main story and makes it hard to navigate at times. And it’s all juggled so poorly. Several times throughout the film it felt like they suddenly remembered there were other characters and situations they hadn’t revisited in a while and quickly shifted over to them in order to remind us that they were still there.
That’s not to say that the movie is awful. There is certainly a diamond or two to be found amongst the coal to keep Dead Bodies from being a bad film. With a couple of glaring exceptions, most of the acting is fairly good. Scott clearly knocks it out of the park, and is the single stand-out of the whole movie. It’s certainly clear from watching him work as Tommy why he was selected to play Moriarty in Sherlock. Man’s got a gift.
Unfortunately, it’s not enough. There’s really a lot of promise here, a lot of potential. But it still ends up falling short of being a good film. There are a lot of great ideas at work in this movie, but they just aren’t managed well. What that leaves is a clunky, plodding film that’s struggling to burn as bright as its single, shining star.
Is It Worth a Look? And yet, with all that said, I’m still going to recommend it. Knowing that I was out of alignment when I watched the movie, I think it’s entirely possible that – though the movie didn’t sit well with me – it may very well resonate better with others. Like I said above – Dead Bodies has a lot of potential. The necessary elements are there and are intriguing enough to give it a go. You may find that it all comes together for you. At the very least, it’s certainly worth seeing for Scott ‘s performance alone. You also have the added benefit of going in without the disillusion of it being a black comedy. In the end, that may make all the difference.
Random Anecdotes: Andrew Scott is best known for his portrayal of Jim Moriarty in the BBC series Sherlock. In a neat coincidence, Kelly Reilly played Mary Morstan (and eventually Mary Watson) in both RDJ Sherlock Holmes movies. In an even weirder coincidence, Scott once ran from a theater to hide in a warehouse while Reilly once ran from a warehouse to hide in a theater.
Dead Bodies was actually nominated for four Irish Film &Television Awards (IFTA), but only won three – Best Actor in a Film (Andrew Scott), Best Editing, and Best Sound/Sound Editing. The fourth category was lost in the mists of Tír na nÓg, and to this day has never been found.
Cinematic Soulmates: The Trouble With Harry, Cold Blood, Blind Side, Very Bad Things, Choke