Seemingly at pains to avert typecasting even before his second turn as James Bond bows, buff superstar Daniel Craig plays a drug-addled, washed-up, but still buff superstar in the glossy but banal drama “Flashbacks of a Fool.” Craig also takes an exec-producer credit here, and, while pic doesn’t exactly feel like a vanity project, its weak script might have kept it forever in development hell if debutant writer-helmer Baillie Walsh weren’t the topliner’s good buddy. Vigorous promotion and Craig’s fan base should ensure respectable B.O. in Blighty, but “Flashbacks” will probably flash and fade offshore.
Action kicks off in contempo Southern California where movie star Joe Scot (Craig) is having a cocaine-fuelled threesome with two prostitutes (filmed with modesty-preserving distorting lens), in his beach-side mansion.
After the pros leave, Joe’s PA Ophelia (rapper-turned-thesp Eve) turns up for work and shows scant sympathy for his hangover and woes. Joe gets even less love over lunch from his agent Manny (Mark Strong), who sacks him as a client, citing his out-of-control behavior.
On top of all that, Joe gets a phone call from his mother in England telling him someone named Boots has died, news which devastates Joe. Joe then walks into the ocean fully clothed, suggesting A Star Will Die in an expanse of sun-sparkled water while the score swells.
At this point, pic makes good on its title’s promise and kicks into flashback mode, as the action shifts to an unnamed British seaside town, sometime in the ‘70s when bell bottoms were still in fashion and teenagers were still into glam rather than punk rock.
The teenage Joe (played now by Harry Eden) lives in a shabby-chic beach hut with his mother Grace (Olivia Williams), little sister Jesse (Mia Clifford), and a woman named Peggy Tickell (Helen McCrory), whose relationship to the family is never made very clear. (Auds might even think she was Grace’s lover, but according to pic’s press notes she’s supposed to be Grace’s sister.)
It’s summertime, and the neighbors — including curmudgeonly widow Mrs. Rogers (Miriam Karlin) and sex-crazed housewife Evelyn (a deliciously feral Jodhi May) who has the hots for Joe — are always in and out of each other’s houses. Joe hangs out with his best friend Boots (Max Deacon), sometimes loitering around the local pinball arcade where he catches the eye of pretty local girl Ruth (Felicity Jones), who shares Joe’s enthusiasm for the music of David Bowie (circa the “Aladdin Sane” album) and Roxy Music.
The latter’s song “If There Is Something” plays a key role: Its references to “when we were young” chime with the script’s elegiac theme, and also form a backdrop to an eye-catching scene where Ruth and Joe mime and dance to it in slow-motion. (Helmer-writer Walsh’s background in directing music-videos pays dividends here.)
Although pic’s period trappings are well-researched, the nuanced lensing by veteran John Mathieson looks terrific, and the editing (credited to Struan Clay) is serviceable, a certain lassitude in the script bogs the whole thing down. Crucially, the flashback midsection never provides much of an answer as to why Joe has become, per title, a “fool.” (“Asshole” would probably be the more appropriate word.)
The notion that he’s traumatized by guilt when a rumble in bed coincides with the death of a child just doesn’t cut much English mustard. Suspicion rises that scenes may have been lost in the edit involving the Boots character, whom everyone eulogizes in the present-day time frame, but who seems strictly functional and barely registers as a presence in the flashback sequence.
In Walsh’s defense, the dialogue is occasionally quite sprightly, even funny, such as in an early scene where the two prosties carry on about the cost of nose jobs. At other times, however, it’s hard to know if humor is intended.
Perfs by the supporting ensemble are credible throughout — even in May’s case outright impressive — but blandly handsome Eden as the young Joe reps a weak spot. He doesn’t even look that much like Craig, who for his part is fine but not particularly stretched or even, despite his top-billing, in that much of the movie.
Pic was almost entirely shot on locations in South Africa, apart from a few scenes filmed in Blighty, which would explain why the sunlight in the beach scenes looks so dazzling and wholly uncharacteristic of the English seaside.