Film Review: The Toll
Director: Ryan Andrew Hooper
Cast: Michael Smiley, Annes Elwy, Paul Kaye, Steve Oram, Evelyn Mok, Julian Glover, Gwyneth Keyworth, Iwan Rheon
Running Time: 83
Australian Distributor: Signature Entertainment / Digital Platforms from 21 October 2021
Directed by Ryan Andrew Hooper and written by Matt Redd this is a story that lures you into a false sense of security as appearing to be remarkably unremarkable. It is set, though, against a lovely backdrop of a rural setting in Wales and creates much charm accordingly.
For those who have lived in a small British village, some of the film’s humour will really hit home. The film gives a good slice of the typical bunch of oddballs in a township with some clever hit-and-miss observations and comedy causing as much derision as laughter.
The star is Michael Smiley. He has the perpetual expression of a man of many sorrows. Here he’s known only as Toll Booth on account of his job behind the till of the quietest toll booth in Wales. A solitary, western-style hero of few words, he speaks more in hard stares and frowns. Opposite him stars Annes Elwy who plays the local village copper. She has to deal with all the strange goings on, the village oddballs and her own grief as she too puts in an impressive acting performance.
The story starts with our two main characters in the toll booth where Smiley is calmly about to tell the tale of the series of events that led to this particular moment with an air of smoke and mirrors.
We are then taken on a retrospective journey, of sorts, moving from past to present. The Toll handles this for the most part wonderfully though does veer to overdoing it at points.
Smiley is understated and plays deadpan well even when confronted with an Elvis impersonator, who he skilfully manipulates in a deal that was a set-up from the start. An air of mystery is intriguing but really goes nowhere so you are drawn more towards Elwy’s character.
It is a film with well-placed humour throughout alongside political as well as social commentary with obvious jibes at Brexit. It taps into the divisive times we live in where in one instance a character spouts xenophobic views but is quickly made a fool in a hilarious way.
The film draws on inspirations such as Tarantino and the Coen Brothers but thankfully it does not ape them to the point it becomes a carbon copy or poor imitation. Hooper’s feature debut makes a strong impression and the film is definitely worth a look without delivering any memorable highs. It certainly is a love letter to Wales with the excellent cinematography.
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