The Weekend Australian film critic Stephen Romei began a review of Suicide Squad (2021) by saying it was akin to The Suicide Squad (2016). Both are DC Comic related.
Why remake a film five years later?
It set me wondering about where has originality gone? Don’t young (or even old) writers create something from nothing, turn it into a script and get funding to have it produced?
Less than a week later, there was redemption in The Toll (2021), a debut feature film for both writer Matt Redd and director Ryan Andrew Hooper.
The toll of the title is a hut and an electronic barrier near the coast in Pembrokeshire, South Wales. In it sits Michael Smiley (credited as Toll Booth by IMDb). As this seemingly innocuous fellow oversees the least-used toll in Wales, he reads Stoner, a novel written by John Williams in 1965. It is an American classic though not much happens to the book’s titular character.
So one thinks of Smiley’s character until events of 29 years ago arrive unexpectedly. Driving a flash coupe, Elton (Gary Beadle) asks for directions to the ferry leaving for Ireland. Elton’s car and clothing indicate very comfortable wealth and his impatience with the taciturn answers of Toll Booth draws the man from his comfortable seat to full view at the window.
The two recognise each other and it is apparent that Toll Booth has been missing for a very long time and Elton’s boss Magnus has never given up the search. It is not revealed but one assumes Toll Booth has double-crossed what appear to be his former boss or business partner, who is a London gangster.
Things are about to move quickly and The Toll picks up pace with the intervention of local police officer Catrin (Annes Elwy). She has a back story of not letting go of her father’s death by hit-and-run. She carries his ashes in an urn but cannot bring herself to strew them.
The sign announcing the town at the beginning of The Toll has graffiti scrawled: “Where Englishman come to die” and this happens in spades. Events ensuing from Elton’s fate are shown and later told in flashback with several scenes repeated providing greater viewer understanding.
Catrin, investigating the wild criminal antics of 20-ish farm girls, the Morgan triplets (all played by Gwyneth Keyworth), crosses paths with Toll Booth. The two events (Elton’s arrival and the Morgans) criss-cross. The quiet toll operator is outed to the audience as the driving economic force of the small community in which he conducts his current illegal activities.
The originality of the story line and its very black comic dialogue and action is only surpassed by the ensemble created by Redd.
There’s an Elvis impersonator woman crook, Dixie (Evelyn Mok) ) and her unintelligible companion, Tab (Darren Evans). These two run the ‘manor’ nearest Toll Booth. Dom (Iwan Rheon) and Cliff (Paul Kaye) are Toll Booth’s operatives, the former a smarty-pants motor cyclist, the latter a kindly but lethal ambulance driver. Both are killers. Dom’s father, Pops (Dewi Morris) is blind and wise and we also meet a token Englishman, Mr Henry (Steve Oram), who runs the local store.
Morgan, the triplets’ father, is in debt to Toll Booth and when his daughter’s crime spree comes to a halt due to a car accident, he pulls the wrong rein in thinking his ‘banker’ has organised their fate. With his two sons, armed and willing, they seek revenge.
In all this I had the sense of influence of writer-director Guy Ritchie (Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Snatch, The Gentlemen) with heavy smatterings of Ethan and Joel Coen (Fargo, No Country For Old Men et al). There was also the sense of the bleak landscapes, solitary anti-hero and wicked characters of spaghetti Westerns.
After reading the interview with Hooper (see below), his reference to director Sergio Leone had me wondering if I imagined the music as being of that genre too?
Great debut film. Let’s hope the originality continues.
THE TOLL LOCATION: The Toll (2021) was set in Pembrokeshire, South Wales. Access from London to Wales across the Severn Bridge brings travellers to South Wales, near Chepstow, and Pembrokeshire is across the country, west of this.
The shire stretches from north to south Wales and almost all its coast is part of the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park.
The Severn Bridge was opened in 1996. It is 988 metres long and its opening was supposed to herald the dawn of new economic era in South Wales. As the Toll Booth Man would have arrived in the region fourteen years earlier than this, his influence on the local economy is perhaps well understood.
INTERVIEW WITH RYAN ANDREW HOOPER