Still Waters, by Aaron Pinkston
John May’s job is to track down the remaining relatives of those who have died alone and unclaimed. I probably don’t have to tell you, this is a pretty crummy job. It’s pretty impossible not to think of the reasons someone got into this position, especially for those who truly seem to have no one. Maybe worse, though, if the next of kin is found he must deal with the stories that tore them apart. We tend to celebrate those who are recently lost, forgetting (or at least ignoring) their flaws, but in these extreme situations, that is especially tough. The bad news that John brings might just rip the scabs off the wound. Directed by Uberto Pasolini, Still Life is a very measured and quiet character study of John while on his last job.
The film stars Eddie Marsan in an against-type role. His turn in The World’s End may precede Still Life, but taken together, Marsan is showing he’s much more of an actor than the angry creep of Happy-Go-Lucky and Tyrannosaur. John is lonely and surrounded by death and grief (or the depressing lack of grief), but Marsan plays the character more solemn than sad. It’s a comfortable performance, without tics and overacting. Marsan sets the tone for the entire film, which follows suit by being understated, uncomplicated and competent.
While rummaging through the apartment of a recently deceased drunkard, the only clue the man had any relationships is a discovered photo album with unmarked pictures of a young girl. Thorough as he is, Johns set off to the man’s small hometown outside of London in hopes of finding answers to his familial mystery. In order to raise the stakes in the film, John becomes a bit too attached to this job, though it doesn’t seem particularly special in comparison to the many jobs he’s had before.
Besides this rather cliche narrative device, there isn’t much conflict in Still Life. Its best strength (other than Marsan’s performance) is its very consistent tone, so not throwing in a lot of drama may benefit the film overall. Still, it doesn’t do much to grab your attention or set itself apart. There is a particularly odd risk in the final ten minutes (I won’t get into details to avoid spoilers) that doesn’t quite work – though the film’s final shot, heartbreaking, beautiful and a nice conclusion to the film’s character study, almost makes the surprising finale worthwhile.
Still Life is a safe film to recommend, but it may be too unassuming to recommend. The exception is for fans of Eddie Marsan. It’s far from his best performance, but his talents undoubtedly shine through. He’s an actor always worthy of attention, so whenever he’s given a leading role it should be recognized.