The Toll


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

The Toll
"Much of the humour in the film depends on contrasting viewers' expectations of rural life with the paraphernalia of Sixties spy movies and Seventies cop shows."

If you like quirky characters, deadpan comedy and the occasional stylistic flourish, you may enjoy this Welsh indie effort, which Ryan Andrew Hooper and Matt Redd have developed from their 2019 short, Ambition. It's not one for everybody but won some loyal fans when screening at the Glasgow Film Festival, and for all the difficulties it runs into, it certainly has spirit.

The film focuses on an unnamed tollbooth operator (Michael Smiley) working on a remote rural road which it's not clear why many people would want to drive along anyway, and collecting so little that it's difficult to see how he can earn enough to pay for his sandwiches. He's been there for years and is well known in his small community, but unbeknownst to people there, he has a secret past. When, one day, an elegantly dressed stranger in an expensive yellow car recognises him, he knows that trouble will soon be on the way. This precipitates a series of events which are presented to viewers in non-chronological order and framed by a story - perhaps true, perhaps just a little misleading - which the tollbooth operator is telling to the local area's much put-upon young police officer (Annes Elwy).

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Much of the humour in the film depends on contrasting viewers' expectations of rural life with the paraphernalia of Sixties spy movies and Seventies cop shows. It works better if you've never lived in a place like this and are ignorant of the mundane business of drug dealing and related criminality which goes on in most small towns and villages. There's some comedy to be found in the way that most locals seem to have some kind of hustle or scam going on, but that's an idea which has been tackled better elsewhere. Whilst the film definitely has its moments and there are some great bits of humour, there are also a couple of jokes which are just so clumsily devised that you'll feel embarrassed on behalf of the writer.

Smiley works well enough in the lead, wry and taciturn, whilst Eley brings the film some much needed heart. The other performances are of variable quality. There's some capable work from Iwan Rheon, but it's telling that Hooper and Redd can't resist tying his character's fate to his Game Of Thrones character. Everything here seems to be trying to be something else, to reference popular, established works rather than delivering something that is truly its own. As such, whilst it demonstrates that Hooper is a talented mimic, it lacks the confidence essential to successful comedy. The clear effort that has gone into it makes one want to like it, but it just doesn't have enough personality of its own to make a lasting impression.

Reviewed on: 15 Mar 2021
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A toll booth operator's secret past comes back to haunt him.
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Director: Ryan Andrew Hooper

Writer: Matt Redd

Starring: Michael Smiley, Annes Elwy, Iwan Rheon, Paul Kaye, Gary Beadle, Steve Oram, Evelyn Mok, Darren Evans, Gwyneth Keyworth

Year: 2021

Runtime: 83 minutes

Country: UK


Glasgow 2021

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