Mindhorn FILM REVIEW
Writers: Julian Barratt, Simon Farnaby
Director: Sean Foley
Release: 5 May
Starring: Julian Barratt, Essie Davis, Simon Farnaby, Russell Tovey, Andrea Riseborough, Richard McCabe, Jessica Barden
Special Agent Bruce Mindhorn is a living lie detector. Captured by the Russians and fitted with a cyber eye able to see the truth, he escapes and returns home to the Isle of Man where he becomes a private detective. Brilliant. Unconventional. Handsome. Moustache enthusiast. Mindhorn is a man’s man, a ladies man and The Man.
Richard Thorncroft is a different story. The actor who played Mindhorn on film has fallen on hard times and kept falling. For a very, very long time. Desperate, almost broke and at the end of his rope, Richard gets the last gig he ever expected; being Mindhorn for real. A serial killer is loose on the isle of Man and he’ll only talk to one man – Special Agent Bruce Mindhorn…
If you’re a Mighty Boosh, Dark Place or Horrible Histories fan you’re going to find a lot to enjoy here. There’s the same gentle surrealism as the first, the same deadly serious absurdity as the second and the same gleeful sense of mischief as the third. All of which is wrapped up in the tiny geographical parcel of the Isle of Man. At least one denizen of MCM Towers grew up there and it really is beautiful, if deeply weird and profoundly tiny. All three of those qualities are on display in Mindhorn and one of the film’s best jokes involves an action sequence unfolding across a very small space on one of the island’s main piers. It manages to evoke the faux glamour of Bergerac but mix that with the sneaking suspicion there’s a chip shop just around the corner. And take it from us, there is.
With a stage so perfectly suited to the story, the film’s off to a good start. The cast help push almost all of it over the top, in both senses of the phrase. Julian Barratt has always been a phenomenal comic actor but this is his best work yet. Richard Thorncroft is monstrous and, crucially, knows it. He’s desperate to not look himself in the eye even as he struggles to be noticed and Barratt works that conflict for all it’s worth. Always funny, often hilarious, occasionally monstrous and at times pitiable he’s a great lead played to perfection.
Essie Davis, of Miss Fisher’s Mysteries fame, also impresses. As Patricia Deville, Thorncroft’s ex co-star and ex-wife she’s a calm, wry presence in a film full of more than slightly hysterical man children. She’s always impressive but rarely on screen and the film suffers for it. Likewise Andrea Riseborough, who does great work here as a dutiful cop assigned to babysit Thorncroft but who is largely forgotten by the script at times. She makes up for it when she’s on screen but like every other female cast member here she’s under served. Jessica Barden is also great as Patricia’s daughter and Harriet Walter is fantastic as Thorncroft’s endlessly patient agent.
The film’s male cast are given far more to do and that’s not always a good thing. Richard McCabe’s turn as Geoffrey Moncrieff, Thorncroft’s former agent almost goes a step too far. He’s a glorious, coke-addled whirlwind of ambition and lies, who walks right up to being too much but never quite manages. Farnaby as Clive Parnevik, Thorncroft’s old stunt double and rival, is less lucky. He’s funny twice. By the time we cycle back around to the jokes about how much sex he’s having and how fat Thorncroft is yet again, he’s outstayed his welcome.
That imbalance is a problem the movie never quite recovers from, even if it is an almost certainly deliberate salute to the gloriously bad shows Mindhorn parodies. Despite that, though, there’s a lot to enjoy here and some surprising moments of emotional weight. Barratt and Russell Tovey both get moments that speak quite deeply to the darker elements of fan culture and there’s a surprisingly effective sense of dread to some of the later scenes. Not to mention one of the best fight sequences you’ll see this year. Kind of.
Flawed, funky, brilliant and broken, Mindhorn is a a salute to, and a parody of, an entire genre of TV shows and a perfect vehicle for Barratt’s magnificent leading turn. Deeply weird, often very funny and the best action (ish) movie set on the Isle of Man you’ll see this year. And that’s the truth. Just ask Mindhorn. He knows…
Review by Alasdair Stuart