Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Caped Aussie: Griff the Invisible

Clark Kent is actually a bad disguise. He is quite conspicuous in his own way. A better super-hero alter-ego would be blandly pleasant. That is not Griff. He is a real life Clark Kent, but he harbors delusions of crime-fighter glory in writer-director Leon Ford’s Griff the Invisible (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

By day, he is bullied at work. By night, he patrols the streets of Sydney in his costume made super-costume, freaking out his neighbors and attracting the attention of the local constabulary. He has a record of this sort of thing, which is why his brother Tim frequently pops over with a six-pack of Fosters for a one-sided man-to-man. Tim thinks he recently met-cute with his new girlfriend Melody, but she looks like she is about to break-out in hives whenever he tells the story.

When Melody gets a load of Griff, she recognizes something of a kindred spirit. She is also quite shy and frequently obsesses over the possibility of walking through walls, like Kitty Pryde in the X-Men. She and Griff would definitely get that reference. However, it is not clear whether she truly represents a healthy potential relationship as she encourages Griff’s quest for invisibility, pushing him deeper into his fantasy world.

Believe it or not, Invisible is a surprisingly mature and nuanced film. Ford is particularly adept at misdirecting and subverting viewers’ well-honed genre movie expectations. He also refrains from papering over Griff’s considerable issues with pleasant “be-true-to-your-dreams” wrapping. Instead, he makes it clear this character has genuine angst and insecurities.

Best known for True Blood, Ryan Kwanten’s performance as Griff comes as another happy shock. Though he was frankly rather wooden in the silly revenge pot-boiler Red Hill, the sensitivity and vulnerability of his work here constitutes a quantum leap forward. Maeve Dermody (which must surely be her real name) also gives a fully realized, multi-dimensional performance as Melody, never becoming the simplistic sidekick her character perhaps aspires to be.

Even the look of Invisible flies in the face of genre convention. Though there are the bright bold comic-book colors, cinematographer Simon Chapman gives it all a gritty look, utilizing old school 16mm. It suits the material better than one might think. Indeed, that is largely true of the entire film, especially Kwanten, in what could be a genuine forget-the-HBO-vampires breakthrough turn as the Comic-Con Candide. Endearing and also more than a little bit sad, Invisible is a fresh-spin and the superhero genre, definitely recommended when it open this Friday (8/19) in New York at the Village East.