Dir: Jamie Thraves; starring: Tom Fisher, Aidan Gillen and Riann Steele. 15 cert, 83 min
British writer-director Jamie Thraves has had a tough time since his grittily promising 2000 debut The Low Down. His follow-up, an adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s thriller The Cry of the Owl, went theatrically unreleased after a sharp lack of critical support. He had to remortgage his own house to get Treacle Jr. made, but it was worth it: a thoughtful tale of mid-life crisis and the comfort of strangers, it’s gruff, funny and stealthily poignant, with a handmade sincerity you’d struggle to fake.
Tom (Tom Fisher), a soft-spoken giant with an indefinable air of sadness, leaves his wife and baby boy, slipping away from their Birmingham home with neither argument nor goodbye. He gets the train to London, with no specific destination in mind, flings his phone into a lake, rips up his bank cards.
He seems to want peace and silence. This is London: think again. He’s soon injured, penniless and sleeping rough. Only one person takes an interest — a fellow called Aidan (Aidan Gillen), who could hardly mean better, but comes at you with the kind of wild, gurning oversolicitousness that prompts instant thoughts of flight. The gangly Tom tries to leg it while his new-found companion relieves himself in a graveyard, but Aidan is a human boomerang — you can’t get rid of him.
Gillen’s performance as this manic nutcase, his face permanently flecked with enthusiastic spittle, is a head-turning tour de force, both yucky and irrepressible. Still, the subtler heavy lifting is done by Fisher (The Nine Lives of Tomas Katz), an underused actor of spooky charisma, usually given the oddball roles himself. Aidan’s living arrangements, meaning his daily abuse at the hands of malign girlfriend Linda (Riann Steele), threaten to tip the movie in the wrong direction, cementing the men’s improvised friendship by putting the blame on Mame, so to speak. But even if these scenes wobble, there’s so much here that’s peculiar and alive, convincing and consoling. On a DIY budget or not, it’s great to have Thraves back.