Mr In-Between

Published on: March 23rd, 2004

MR IN-BETWEEN

7/10

UK 2001 (released 2003) : Paul SAROSSY : 97 mins

Mr In-Between world-premiered in Toronto way back on September 10th, 2001: one day later, the world in which it premiered would effectively no longer exist. Since then, most distributors have been even more lily-livered than usual when dealing with dark, downbeat or ‘difficult’ films. So this strikingly ambitious, unashamedly adult psychological thriller – which squarely and proudly occupies each of those categories – has languished in a limbo almost as painful as that of its alienated anti-hero Jon (Andrew Howard).

An ice-blooded professional killer, retained by an underworld Machiavel known only as ‘the Tattooed Man’ (David Calder), Jon’s long-dormant conscience is reawakened when he chances upon his childhood sweetheart Cathy (Geraldine O’Rawe). Cathy has now settled down with husband Andy (Andy Tiernan) and their young daughter, but her re-acquaintance with Jon – suddenly tormented by thoughts of what might have been – produces traumatic consequences for all.

Though the tone of bracing existential bleakness (“You need a break. Where do you fancy?” “Oblivion.”) won’t be to everyone’s tastes, there are enough touches of very black gallows humour along the way to ensure the film isn’t an entirely soul-chilling experience. And debutant director Sarossy – Atom Egoyan’s longtime cinematographer – transcends a (visibly) low-budget by taking some bold but valid stylistic choices to trace Jon’s journey to perdition through a tenebrous London where only faint glimmers of the human spirit seem to remain. Like the protagonist of the forthcoming (but vastly inferior) Principles of Lust, Jon – a powerfully haunted, closed-circuit performance from David Gray lookalike Howard – must choose between ‘normal’ domesticity and the baroque excesses of a criminal life. His ‘in-between’ status is mirrored by Sarossy alternating between grimy quotidian exteriors and more stylised interior realms: Jon’s pathologically neat flat; the Tattooed Man’s cavernous subterranean lair.

It’s a technique that owes much to the likes of Manhunter and Performance, but is executed with sufficient intensity to allow Mr In-Between to join those films in the all-too-narrow sub-genre that seeks to probe and externalise the most harrowing recesses of the criminal or sociopathic mind. Gangster No 1 and Christie Malry’s Own Double-Entry are the most recent British variations which aimed for similar territory – only to fall short, hamstrung by over-complex, split-timescale structures (Gangster alternating between its anti-hero’s prime and middle-age, Malry hopping between its hero’s prime and the middle-ages) – Mr In-Between, however, has the courage to stick to relentlessly to one single, harrowing path. Though we never actually hear the jaunty song (“. don’t mess with Mr In-Between! .”) which provides the film’s title, Sarossy and company are to be commended for so bravely ignoring its advice and instead accentuating the negative.

That said, the recurring metaphysical ‘chats’ about free will and evil between Jon and his volubly Miltonic employer (who urges the lad to “focus on the cerebral”) do veer occasionally towards Matrix zones of pretentiousness, however, a tendency signalled by some shots of Jon’s bookcase where we glimpse the titles of key texts from the likes of Dostoyevsky and Sartre. Sarossy and scriptwriter Peter Waddington (adapting Neil Cross’s novel) do undoubtedly bite off a little more than they can chew. But, with so few films having any teeth at all these days, this hardly seems like much of a criticism.

10th July, 2003
(seen 6th June: Showcase, Dudley)

Check out our interview with the director Paul Sarossy

To win a copy of Mr Inbetween click here

by Neil Young