GERARD BUTLER DESCENDS INTO MADNESS IN THE BASED ON A TRUE STORY THRILLER “THE VANISHING”
Gerard Butler isn’t a name that draws much confidence because of his supposed less than stellar script choices. As for me, I have no problem with Gerard nor his movies (well ok “P.S. I Love You” was a disaster). Getting his real big break and becoming a recognizable name, starring as King Leonidas in Zack Snyder’s 2006 visual achievement “300”, based on Frank Miller’s graphic novel. He has made three films in 2018 (“Den Of Thieves”, Hunter Killer” and “The Vanishing”). I’ve enjoyed them all, some maybe more then others but nonetheless I have enjoyed them all. I’ll be reviewing the most recent of Butler’s projects the based on a true story tale “The Vanishing”, a good guys, gone bad thriller. With no relation to George Sluizer’s ingenious Dutch 1991 thriller or his 1993 American adaptation.
“The Vanishing”, formerly known as “Keepers” is based on the story of the Flannan Isle Mystery, in which three lighthouse keepers disappeared without a trace at the turn of the century. Till this day the disappearance has never been solved. The mystery has evolved over the years citing among the possible explanations that the men were: killed by pirates, eaten by seabirds, and even kidnaped by aliens. Thankfully “The Vanishing” features no ETs, man eating seabirds, and chooses to stay away from the obvious supernatural slant, which is a direction the film could have easily gone into. Instead it decides to go more for a “Treasure of the Sierra Madre” inspired tale of paranoia, greed and isolation.
Writers Joe Bone and Celyn Jones leans hard on a conventional solution, giving it a plot that throws the three men into contact with a treasure. Since no one knows what actually happened to the Flannan Isles keepers; the movie proposes a scenario to what could have happened, in which a cache of gold washes ashore, accompanied by dangerous men who want their gold back and a tale that delves into greed, paranoia, isolation, being driven to violence and the decent of man into madness.
The director of “The Vanishing” is Danish filmmaker Kristoffer Nyholm, whose name looks and sounds like a scrambling of words of American filmmaker Christopher Nolan’s name (just so you know, he’s no Christopher Nolan). The filmmaker is the maestro behind the original Danish series “The Killing” (that was Americanized in 2011-2014), as well as the spooky Brit mini-series “The Enfield Haunting”.
After arriving on a remote isle for a six-week stint, three light house keepers: Donald (Connor Swindells), the naive youth killing time before his real life begins; James (Gerard Butler), the down on his luck family man who deeply needs the cash; and Thomas (Peter Mullan), the seasoned veteran who becomes the group’s stern leader. Their routine is soon shattered the moment a rowboat washes up on the rocks and a Nordic looking brute is washed up with the boat and a small trunk. The three light house keepers take the trunk as Thomas is the first to look in the chest. But what Thomas realizes is that the gold the man had with him, means others will come looking for it and come asking questions.
There’s a level of care here that director Nyholm reaches further than just cheap thrills and bloodshed. He slowly ratchets up the tension and eerie atmospherics. Cinematographer Jorgen Johansson helps to evoke an ominous atmosphere of a windswept desolation. Nyholm doesn’t clutter “The Vanishing”, he keeps it a stark and brutal thriller where the violence when it comes is sudden, savage, personal and morally disorienting.
Gerard Butler, is a pleasant surprise here as James, departing from his usual tough guy action heroes to play a more dramatic part. He does it so well that you have to wonder why he doesn’t do it more often? He looks different here, looking more thicker, dissolute, with his blue eyes turned inward with guilt and horror. He delivers a strong reminder that there’s a real actor lurking within the star of so many macho action movie vehicles.
He even believed in the project enough to serve as the film’s producer. Butler gives his most emotive performance to date. And he isn’t alone. For much of its runtime, “The Vanishing” is a conversation piece, and all three of its leads (Peter Mullan in particular) serve as irreplaceable parts in its affecting machinery, each of the three men distinct in both their fears and motivations. Unfortunately, the actors’ heavy Scottish brogue can be often difficult to decipher, although watching it in surround sound is a must and will help to hear.
When the island is visited, the visitors are menacing. With just a gaff hook, a hatchet and shovel to defend themselves, they’re in deep before they even realize it. My only downfall to the film is if Danish director Krystoffer Nyholm, screenwriters Joe Bone and Celyn Jones had given us the disappearances for us to solve. A mystery that could have been even more mysterious than what they cooked up. Despite the conventional road it goes, “The Vanishing” is a well spun tale of greed, treachery, mistrust and bloody violence. A morality tale that reminds us, that taking a life never comes easily nor can it be taken lightly.
GRADE: ★★★★☆ = 4 OUT OF 5