Imagine the sterility and pacing of Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, but with better technical elements and less brutal murders, and you have Tony. The UK film stars Peter Ferdinando, who is just as good as Michael Rooker, as the ultimate creeper of the shabby London suburbs. Written and Directed by Gerard Johnson, Tony is his first feature film and second time working with Ferdinando. While the film is incredibly well-shot, well-acted, and generally well put together, I walked away with the same question I did after witnessing Henry: Why did I watch this film?
The title character Tony is a mess of a human being. He is painfully awkward, sporting a more decrepit Crispin Glover look and maintaining a confused sexual frustration. Addicted to action films (hey, a No Retreat, No Surrender reference!), I imagine that much of his frustration sprouts from his feeble self not measuring up to the stars he quotes. Only a truly insane individual would allude to First Blood when being confronted by a man three times his strength, muttering, “Don’t push it or I’ll give you a war you won’t believe.” In some ways, Tony reminded me of Patrick Bateman from American Psycho, only the fantasy is not so heavily invested in. In fact, it is tough to tell what Tony’s deal is and I kept asking myself so many questions. Why does he kill? When did he start? What made him snap? Rather than walking us through Tony’s decent into the life of a serial killer, we begin in the middle of it. The first murder is casual and Tony knows exactly how to clean up after it. I can’t help but think the film would have been more interesting if it had a clear distinction from Tony’s state at the beginning of the film in comparison to the end. Instead, we get a slice of life that is 76 minutes long with no particular destination.
I did find my mind wandering throughout the film, checking the time once or twice. I am thankful the filmmakers did not attempt to push screen time to reach the 90-minute mark. Whoever said that was a prerequisite? It works for Tony to be as short as it is, since it does not follow a traditional rising-action/climax/falling-action pot structure. What kept my interest throughout the film was Ferdinando’s performance, the emotive cinematography, and the dissonant sound design. Ferdinando lives and breathes the character; every movement, expression, and gesture is guided by Tony’s internal turmoil. This characterization was captured perfectly through the lens. Gorgeous steadicam shots follow Tony as he meanders through the seedy London streets during magic hour, capturing all of the city’s beauty and ugliness in every frame. There are no gargantuan camera movements that distract from the character-focused story, nor are there schizophrenic Paul-Greengrass-style shots. Everything is understated and punctuated at the right moments. To accompany the picture, the sound design is equally as understated. Sometimes score is simply allowed to take over, as all diegetic audio fades away. The lone piano or the singular droning sounds truly encapsulated Tony’s dynamic emotional and mental states.
While I can appreciate all of the aforementioned craftsmanship, I still cannot get over the question I asked earlier: Why did I watch this film? There seems to be no message, no theme, no resolution, and no redemption. Just like Henry, the film ends the same way it began. Did anything in between the credits even matter for the outcome of the story? Although some people don’t mind this type of plot structure, I need more. I need a beginning, middle, and end. However, if you were a fan of Henry, then you should definitely check out Tony.