The fourth film from director Marjane Satrapi (“Persepolis,” “Chicken with Plums“), “The Voices” navigates the line between the gruesome and the goofy with a step as nimble as a tight-rope walker going over a sea of broken glass. It’s an extraordinarily warm and funny movie about a likable schizophrenic murderer; it’s candy-colored and meticulously composed and yet also shiny with fresh wet blood. It’s weird and funny and perfectly-pitched, and to cap off its catalog of rare feats, it also features an immensely likable performance from Ryan Reynolds.
That last is a light dig at Mr. Reynolds, a tremendously charming and gifted actor whose only apparent flaw is his willingness to appear in terrible, bad-idea-from-the-jump films like “Green Lantern” and “Turbo” and “The Amityville Horror.” (It’s the crisis that often faces the modern would-be leading man: the industry cares more if you’re appearing in movies than if the movies you’re in are worth a damn.) But here, Reynolds plays Jerry Hickfang, a happy worker on the shipping line at a bath-and-toilet manufacturer in a small town called Milton. In the first scene, as a pink-jumpsuit-wearing Jerry puts his final touches on his day at work, his manager mentions how Jerry’s doing great, and how the manager was more than happy to report that to Jerry’s court-appointed psychiatrist…
Reynold’s Jerry wants to fit in – desperately – and he volunteers to work on the company picnic with the hottie from accounting played by Gemma Arterton, but two of the most important figures in Jerry’s life have divided opinions on if that’s good or bad; specifically, his dog Bosco and cat Mr. Whiskers, who speak to Jerry in a jovial slowpoke baritone (Bosco) or a coarse Scottish burr (Mr. Whiskers) and function as his super ego and id. Bosco and Mr. Whiskers’ capacity for speech is entirely in Jerry’s mind, of course; so are a lot of other things.
As an illustrator whose first film was animating her own autobiographical graphic novel, Satrapi has a certain and incisive understanding of color, composition, shape and space – and it’s a delight to watch that on the screen, as it’s used not just to make a beautiful film but to help make it’s points. (When Jerry goes on his meds, his tidy apartment where Bosco and Mr, Whiskers counsel him looks very, very different; it’s a simple, smart trick with ramifications that then linger through the film.) Reynolds winds up romancing Arterton’s co-accountant Anna Kendrick, after he makes a grave error with Arterton, and while Michael R. Perry’s script occasionally feels a little like a talking-animal comedy riff on some of the plot elements in Thomas Harris’ novel “Red Dragon,” you might as well steal from the best.
As for Reynolds, he’s great – charming and hesitant, damaged and trying. Jacki Weaver also shines as his psychiatrist, and Anna Kendrick is great in the same part Joan Allen had in “Manhunter” – a woman who falls for man without being able to see the thing inside him. The animal performers are also top-notch, with their speech (and Jerry’s other hallucinations and delusions) brought to life by a crack production and FX team. Normally homicide and hilarity do not mix especially well, but “The Voices” – once you realize that Jerry is an unreliable narrator even to himself – manages to do exactly that in a way where both the tension and the grisly laughs are in perfect synch. It’s a bit of an irony that “The Voices” doesn’t have much to say, but the fact of the matter is that it’s the tone and the tenor of the film that make it most watchable; a truly hilarious film about truly horrible things, the real artistry in Satrapi’s direction of “The Voices” speaks for itself. [B]