Ever since the birth of celluloid, it has been callously appropriated for the purpose of propaganda – from Battleship Potemkin to the bafflingly awful films shot in the early 1940s in which Captain Poshchops and his bally good troop of loyal British troops gave the Hun a good thrashing to the modern day when Arab grotesques are maimed in the name of Uncle Sam. But now the world has a new enemy – the amoral bankers who caused the collapse of the world’s economy.
Freefall fastidiously embellishes the glorified hubris of the bankers and then gleefully paints their fall with as much depth as Lucifer’s, all the while pandering to the viewers’ feral lust for clearly delineated heroes and villains. And though much Freefall is less a drama and more a slowly salivating mechanical process, the superb acting and deep seated running theme of emotional dislocation – intimated by characters communicating their unhappiness with stilted, clockwork utterances that they were “fine” – made this a disturbing and gripping 90 minutes.
Aidan Gillen’s Gus was not so much a man but more akin to an organ of the aloof, monolithic bank where he was in charge of making money through a peculiar combination of gobbledygook and masturbation; even his personal life was entombed within his workplace as he only found the time to “f**k” Anna (the underused Rosamund Pike) in the deserted office. Whenever they met outside, they had to deal with each other as people rather than internal zombie-cogs of the bank, during which Gillen’s beautifully crumpled face would breathlessly crumble as if struggling to survive outside an avaricious environ.
His only other genuine human contact was with his estranged daughter – who began the contagious game of “fine” Chinese Whispers – who acted as his conscience for his divorce from society. When he was sacked, after his bank lost billions in bad debts, he was expelled from the building like a transplanted organ rejected by the host body and he went to cry on her cold shoulder, before throwing himself from a bridge onto the hard shoulder of a main road, and in doing so rather too easily satiated the baying audience’s frustrated sense of vengeance on the villains.
Frustrated, because the other villainous protagonist, Dave (Dominic Cooper), escaped with a half-hearted cuffing from his old school mate Jim (Joseph Mawle), after his house was repossessed, before slithering from flogging dubious mortgages to spouting ostentatious blather to gullible middle-class women yearning to salve their ecological conscience through the installation of solar power in their grandiose, life-sapping mansions.
Even though the sale of the mortgage to poor Jim, a sap cipher given life by the tired resignation of Mawle, and his more circumspect wife Mandy (Anna Maxwell), was conducted through a tortuous, picaresque narrative it was vivified as Dave would seduce his customers/victims far more fervently than in his personal relationships, even creepily flirting with Mandy by saying she had “CTB (come to bed) eyes”, with the bashful abbreviation the only concession to his shameless bullying.
Freefall perhaps presaged a much worse apocalypse than actually occurred – however bad it is – and because of this appears slightly dated (not least Gus’s daughter liking the Libertines as if it was 2003), with much of the public fury over bankers having typically abated after the three-month period of revenge – and empathy over Gus’s sacking rather than him receiving just desserts – while the artificial set-up with characters fulfilling predictable allegorical roles rather than three-dimensional people drained it of some theatrical potency.
However, writer/ director Dominic Savage’s bravery ultimately paid off by liberating a brilliant cast to extort a beguiling pathos from such a leaden assemblage of characters mired in the rusting mechanics of the City and the mortgage markets, a feat as impressive as mining compassion from the granite jowls of Richard Littlejohn.