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Joe Anderson appears as Donnie in High Life.

3 out of 4 stars


High Life

  • Directed by Gary Yates
  • Written by Lee MacDougall
  • Starring Timothy Olyphant, Stephen Eric McIntyre, Joe Anderson, Rossif Sutherland, Brittany Scobie and Mark McKinney
  • Classification: 18A

Filmed in Winnipeg during the last of tuque weather, High Life is a crime drama populated by drug-soaked oddballs. Some appear sexually confused. The film could be subtitled My Own Private Manitoba.

Quentin Tarantino would cut off his tone arm for the opening: Bank robbers shoot it out with cops. Bullets chime off cars. Cut to our narrator, Dick (Timothy Olyphant): "As far back as I can remember I wanted to be a lawyer," he says, gripping a firearm.

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At which point Three Dog Night's Mama Told Me Not To Come kicks in. From there we flash back to the gang coming together. Dick wasn't kidding about the lawyer part. Even now, he wants to do the right thing. Then again, he'd also like to stay high forever.

Later, Dick returns to the suburbs to borrow a car from his ex-wife (it's probably his ex-car). There, he has his behind kicked by her current husband. A little boy looks on, crestfallen. "Dad?" the youngster croaks.

Filmmaker Gary Yates's ( Seven Times Lucky ) movie is crowded with intriguing characters. Kid in the Hall Mark McKinney has fun with a cameo, playing a red-faced bureaucrat who fires Dick from a janitor's job. It's the bank robbers who command our attention, however. Stephen Eric McIntyre is suitably out there as Bug, a repressed gay cowboy visited by stallions when he's high.

More interesting still are Dick and Billy. Olyphant is an engaging performer with a great disappearing act. The actor did a spot-on impersonation of a Henry Fonda sheriff in the HBO western Deadwood . And he was a convincing, shark-grinning lunatic (another military man) in A Perfect Getaway . He's on the other side of the law and less secure here. Olyphant brings alive his low-life character, nonetheless. Dick is a salesmen with one product line - himself. He gets by doling out charm in portions as small as the morphine samples he shoots into his hip daily.

As played by Donald Sutherland's son, Rossif Sutherland, Billy is a big, handsome exhibitionist who gets off on exciting admirers - male or female. Director Yates and screenwriter MacDougall deserve credit for putting Billy in intriguing contexts. In one scene, he eats cotton candy in a beautiful, near-empty church (as good a metaphor for getting high as has ever been put on film).

High Life is filled with surprising, artful flourishes. The cinematography, by Michael Marshall, is suffused with pale, wintry light. And the film is set in 1983, which allows for a dream Mondo Canuck soundtrack - April Wine, Michel Pagliaro, Max Webster.

Forget about morphine and cotton candy; if you want to get off on a movie, go see High Life , a movie so cool you won't want to take off your coat when you get inside the theatre.

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