Screenwriter: Steve Lewis, Tony Owen
Starring: Mackenzie Crook, Colm Meaney, Imelda Staunton, Gemma Arterton
Running time: 108 mins
This British flick has kicked up a bit of a kerfuffle in the media over its supposedly unsympathetic and trivial treatment of the stresses faced by Tube drivers on an everyday basis. Pickets have been threatened, unjustifiably, but the real travesty of Three And Out lies in the fact that it's been marketed as a comedy - genuine laughs during the film are as scarce as a Dodo.
Fortunately, the movie functions much better as both a heartwarming and heartbreaking tale of the relationship between two emotionally ravaged men. Mackenzie Crook is perfectly cast as Paul, a London Underground driver who has the misfortune to be driving trains that two suicidal people jump in front of. These death scenes aren't played for laughs at all and accurately convey the harsh emotional repercussions of the situation. One glance at Crook's gaunt, bereaved expression in the aftermath shows that this is not funny in the slightest.
Paul is soon told that if a third 'jumper' comes into fatal contact with his train then he'll be entitled to a bumper pay-off - enough to afford his pipedream of a remote hut in which he can pursue his literary ambitions. Enter suicidal tramp Tommy, played with panache by the commanding Colm Meaney. The pair make a pact to benefit both sides, but Tommy has some unfinished business to attend to - namely his estranged wife Rosemary (Staunton) and embittered daughter Frankie (the promising Arterton).
The premise is undoubtedly cracking, unlike the attempts at running gags. This is epitomised by the painful subplot featuring Sir Anthony Sher's cannibal Maurice and his repeated attempts to entice Paul to tuck into his sausage in return for him becoming Numero Trois. Another narrative contrivance that frequently grates is the desperate attempt to make the audience view Paul as a sympathetic character. A touch of ambiguity is far preferable to the excruciatingly emotive music that rears its head whenever he gazes at a picture of his dream home.
The story does tend to trundle along, like a typical Piccadilly Line train, until Tommy encounters his family in the latter half of the film. From that point on, sparks fly, Paul bags an unexpected conquest and the plot hurtles towards a rather affecting climax. Much credit lies in the wonderful verbal sparring between Staunton and Meaney, who both imbue their characters with a great deal of depth.
Three And Out could - and should - have been a magnificent triumph for British cinema. Ultimately, the film tries too hard to please the masses at times, with its forays into obvious, bawdy humour really detracting from the credibility of the central plot. Still, the film excels when it focuses on the touching emotional journey and bond between two disparate souls. If only the lacklustre gags could have been excised and replaced with more drama - or half decent jokes.
> Click here to read our interview with Mackenzie Crook