Director: Ryan Andrew Hooper
Starring: Michael Smiley, Annes Elwy, Iwan Rheon
Welsh filmmaker Ryan Andrew Hooper makes his feature-length directorial debut with his new comedy crime-thriller, The Toll.
The film follows Toll Booth (Michael Smiley) a quiet toll booth operator who lives and works in a small Welsh town.
He’s enjoyed many years of peaceful work in this job but one day when a face from his past arrives at his window some of Brendan’s previous actions come back to disturb his now calm way of life.
A well-known cast of British talents join Smiley to portray a wide range of unique and amusing characters, but is this enough to earn Hooper’s debut a pass through the cinematic tolls?
Smiles All Round
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Well in casting Smiley as the main character The Toll immediately gets off to a good start.
Smiley is a brilliant actor who always energizes any production that he’s a part of and his work here is no different.
His performance is essential in tying together the various different narrative threads and a lively roster of characters that Hooper introduces over the course of the film.
Alongside Smiley, The Toll features a performance from relative newcomer Annes Elwy, who plays a local police officer Catrin.
She benefits from sharing the screen with such a seasoned professional like Smiley who helps split the weight of the film.
Nonetheless, she also shows much potential and talent of her own and is never found fading into the background amongst the better-known names.
The remainder of the cast is made up of a selection of actors who will provoke the “now where do I know them from?” question in the minds of audiences.
As an ensemble though, the cast is good, they give spirited performances and bring their range of characters to life in entertaining fashion.
Hooper even works in some Welsh lines for a number of his characters to speak which provides a further layer to the dialogue in his screenplay and no doubt a feature that many in home town crowds will appreciate.
Slow and Steady Doesn’t Always Win the Race
It’s a shame then that the remaining material the cast has to work with is never as strong as they are.
The Toll does start well, establishing a mysterious narrative alongside its variety of fun characters, made up of local residents and individuals from further afield, but it can’t quite deliver on the promise that it shows in this first act.
On numerous occasions, the screenplay makes reference to the slow pace at which time passes in this sleepy Welsh town, and unfortunately the same can be said for The Toll’s screenplay, which never really gains much momentum.
Furthermore, it’s hard to really get into the core of the narrative as a result of the non-linear storytelling.
However, this isn’t too much of a struggle and the film is also self-aware about this which is a nice touch, it just feels like an unnecessary barrier that has to be overcome before allowing audiences to become fully invested in the on-screen antics.
The blend of the screenplay’s darker moments and the attempts at off-beat comedy doesn’t quite combine to create the style of film it’s going for.
The dark moments never go dark enough to create much of an impact and the comedy isn’t as riotous as it needs to be to succeed. However, it’s by no means a disaster.
The screenplay does have some well-written jokes and there are entertaining gags but maybe just not enough to sustain audience attention over a feature-length production.
A more concentrated effort using only the best elements of The Toll could have made for a superb short film, there’s just not enough here to warrant a feature-length version.
One to Watch
Nevertheless, Hooper’s debut is nothing if not promising.
He swings big and unfortunately does miss the target on more than one occasion. However, thankfully his cast has his back and do make The Toll very watchable.
In addition to this, there is evidence of his comedic writing too which simply needs to be finessed.
As well there is a really fun quality to his storytelling present that given some more time and experience to develop could produce some excellent projects in the future.
However, for now, The Toll doesn’t quite manage to connect its own dots, failing to make a satisfying overall picture.
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