A Drunkard’s Prayer & Damnation in Nottingham
DIRECTED BY CHRIS COOKE/2003
BLU-RAY STREET DATE: APRIL 26, 2022/POWERHOUSE (INDICATOR)
The will is strong, but the flesh is weak…. Hmm. At least half of that is true about our central four… It’s 2003, and everything is a bit blurry; murky. Is it a booze or the low-rez video this movie was shot on? Who’s to say.
Actually, it’s very much both. Drinking and driving is no joke in any part of the world, but for this Nottingham, England-based pack of mismatched arrestees, rehab for it sure is. With grating frequency, Paul (Rupert Procter), Jimmy (Greg Chisholm), Mark (Mark Devenport), and Richard (Hywel Bennett) gather in a children’s rec room for condescendingly guided rounds of anti-drinking role playing and self-righteous speeches by the leader, Ian (Jonny Phillips). Afterwards, they vent and bond at the pub… over drinks. Hmm.
This quartet of sweary irritable everydorks are obviously intended to be relatable in the least movie-star way possible on this side of able-bodied blokes. It might even be true that in this casting, filmmaker Chris Cooke pushed too far into the direction of comedic body types. But, that scarcely matters insofar as these actors doing their thing. These guys bond as perfectly awkwardly as intended by the screenplay. They’re desperate and self-destructive and can’t be trusted, but they keep us watching. That’s particularly true when a robbery scheme is hatched against the wealthiest one of their own…
Shot on DVcam video equipment and lacking much in terms of external polish (not a lot of music, sound effects, color correction, etc.), One for the Road could almost be mistaken for a rigidity resourced Dogme 95 film. Within that range, it’s a well-realized blend of early Wes Anderson and early Danny Boyle on a shoestring budget. Through ninety-six minutes of inspired jump cuts, hazy focus, and real-life puking, there’s a resonant rough n’ tumble flow about the film, but also a carted whimsy of sorts.
Though One for the Road remains quite under the radar, Indicator spares no attention in its treatment of this limited Blu-ray edition (only 4,000 copies for the UK and USA). Powerhouse Films’ (Indicator’s parent company) new restoration from a 2K scan of an original preservation print is likely better than this standard definition video movie ever looked. While the argument could be made that such movies (such as Thomas Vinterberg’s The Celebration or David Lynch’s Inland Empire) gain nothing from such HD treatment, there’s a case to be made to assured maximizing when carried out in the right hands. This would be a case of that. It is, we’re told, an “authentic cinema presentation of this digital video-originated production”. The option of original 5.1 surround sound and 2.0 stereo audio tracks are present.
On alternate audio tracks, we find two vintage audio commentaries. As was the practice back in the 2003 salad days of DVDs, commentaries were recorded during immediately after post-production wrapped. A fine idea in theory, as that particular filmmaking experience is still fresh for the cast and crew, and they are less likely to have moved onto other things just yet. But all too often, everyone also comes off as kind of burned out and tired. There can’t be any 20/20 hindsight yet, because they’re still in it. That seems to be the situation here with both tracks. They’re informative, but rather draggy. The first is with writer-director Chris Cooke, producer Kate Ogborn and co-producer Helen Solomon; the second is with actors Greg Chisholm, Mark Devenport and Rupert Procter.
There is a brand new retrospective documentary, which runs well over a half-hour. Impressively solid, it features interviews with Cooke, actors Chisholm, Devenport, Procter and Johann Myers, composer Steve Blackman, and camera operator Steven Sheil. This piece does a fine job of contextualizing the film and its impact on the participants. It’s nicely comprehensive and well put together, if also quite a bit dry.
Besides One for the Road, this disc includes a nice assortment of short films by and/or featuring the main attraction’s key talent. Most if not all of these shorts thematically connect one way or another to One for the Road. They are presented oldest to newest:
Map of the Scars (1998), directed by Cooke and starring Andrew Tiernan, is an eleven-minute intentionally disjointed monologue by a troubled drunk recalling how his head got bloodied, among other things. It registers as part editing exercise, part acting exercise. It offers an audio commentary with Cooke from 2003.
If 2001’s eight-minute Shifting Units feels familiar, it’s probably because it served as an inspiration for One for the Road. Either that or you know the life of an alcoholic paper goods salesman all too well. Also directed by Cooke (and also with a 2003 commentary, this one with him, producer Helen Solomon, and executive producer Kate Ogborn), Shifting Units lands as an impressively grindstoned piece of work.
Why I Hate Parties (But Pretend to Love Them) (2003) is an anxiety-ridden ten-minute short film co-written and directed by Mark Devenport, with photography by Cooke. Featuring cast members from One for the Road, it quite effectively captures the main character’s fear of social situations (and women) versus his desire to fit in (and meet women).
Gary the Rapper vs Stefan Blix (2014): is a fun one co-written and directed by Devenport, with photography by Cooke. It stars One for the Road composer Steve Blackman as Stefan Blix, another musician who teams up with an aspiring mundane rapper named Gary to complete a track. It is not easy.
Whiskers and Jane is a burnt-out version of Escape (The Piña Colada Song), wherein a directionless rocker named Whiskers realizes a freeing way he can reinvigorate his marriage to the ever-frustrated Jane. The short film is written by Devenport and Blackman, directed by Devenport, and stars Procter.
This fine package is rounded out with the following additional bonus features:
• Video diaries with Chris Cooke and Steven Sheil (2003)
• Original theatrical trailer
• Website ‘virals’ (2003): promotional videos featuring improvised, in-character footage of Devenport and Procter
• Image gallery: promotional and publicity material
• Limited edition exclusive booklet with a new essay by Thirza Wakefield, archival interviews, an overview of contemporary critical responses, new writing on the short films, and film credits.
Indicator has done quite right by One for the Road, despite its relative obscurity. Notably, this is its world premiere on Blu-ray, marketed both within the U.K. and the U.S. Those interested in small, well-conceived personal against-all-odds filmmaking and/or knucklehead crime stories should seek this on out.