SPLIT (2016) Movie Review By Philip Henry

Split Review

Director: Robbie Walsh
Writer: Robbie Walsh
Stars: Robbie Walsh, David Alexander

Not to be confused with the M. Night Shyamalan movie of the same name, this low budget Irish mockumentary follows two Dublin-based hitmen over the course of two days as they go through their hit list. Between jobs they discuss whatever pops into their heads, including the recurring topic of whether Jason Bourne or James Bond is better.

The film-maker is obviously wearing his influences on his sleeve with Tarantino and Scorsese front and centre, but all the conversations and bickering about pointless issues suggests he’s seen Kevin Smith’s Clerks a fair few times too. They’re many of the same influences I have too, so it’s with a heavy heart that I have to admit this film didn’t work for me.

I think the main problem is the tone. The scenes in the car are obviously a nod to Vincent and Jules in Pulp Fiction, but I didn’t find the pair in this movie – Hitman and Hitman2 – at all likeable. Vincent and Jules laugh and joke with each other, they rib each other, these two argue and rarely smile which makes them hard to empathise with.

Early on in the film Hitman2 shoots an innocent woman (Hitman does the same thing later on) and this is a major mistake. At a point in the movie where you should be trying to get the audience on the side of these two, this only made me dislike them both. Carrying out hits for money is one thing, but shooting an innocent passer-by without remorse isn’t going to endear us to the characters. When Vincent shoots Marvin in Pulp Fiction, even though it’s an accident, he regrets it, and when Jules and Vincent execute Brad and ‘Flock of Seagulls’ you can see they’re taking no pleasure in it – it’s just a job. That was how Tarantino got us to care about two guys in such a deplorable line of work. Another excellent movie referenced in this film is Leon and the writer/ director would have done well to follow the Frenchman’s creed if he wanted us to like his main characters: ‘No women, no kids.’

I think this script is pretty close to being really good. It just needed a fresh pair of eyes and a few more drafts to get the tone consistent and decide if it wanted to go for gritty realism or an OTT comic-book feel. This mix of both didn’t work for me. In the space of a few minutes it goes from Clerks style light-hearted nonsense to Ken Loach style nastiness and then back again. The Cohen Bros. said the hardest thing about making a film is starting with a certain tone and maintaining that tone throughout. This film goes from slapstick fights to sombre discussions of death on the beach and all points in between. It just doesn’t know what it is.

The film could’ve done with a clearer through-line. The majority of the first half of the film is just: talk in the car, kill someone, talk in the car, kill someone, etc. but we never hear their motivations beyond money. If they have no other motivation beyond money that just makes them even more unlikable, but if they had been working towards something – the carrot in front of the donkey – and it was something we could relate to, it would’ve gone a long way to tying it all together and maybe even getting me on-side as a viewer. As it stands, it feels like a bunch of shorts tacked onto one another with no real overall story arc.

It’s a clever idea and with a bit more development could’ve been something really special. The technical aspects of the film are well done with the sound and cinematography stand-outs. There is no music in the film except for the end credits, and I think that’s another reason it felt a little flat and bleak to me. Music is a great way to set the tone of a scene, and there’s plenty of royalty free music online, so it doesn’t have to break the budget either.

I know from experience how hard it is to make a low-budget feature, so I commend anyone who gets a film shot, completed and out there, especially in a genre that isn’t mainstream. The film-makers even managed to get this a limited theatrical release in Ireland last year so I congratulate all involved in doing so much with so little resources. I hope this writer/ director continues to make films because although this one didn’t work for me, he obviously has good ideas and I’d be anxious to see what he does next.

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