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The Toll: A Rare Welsh Bit

The Toll: A rare Welsh bit

NB: This article contains spoilers for The Toll and is best read after watching the film.

How to prepare a rare Welsh bit, with the aftertaste of Sergio Leone, a hint of Quentin Tarantino, and the tiniest pinch of Wes Anderson:

First, focus on the exquisite long shots of the Welsh landscapes, imbued with the raw beauty of the wind-brushed plains. And in the middle of this green desert, the solitary toll booth – an apparent haven of civilisation that eventually boils down to reveal an entirely different flavour.

Next, add a hero, shrouded in mystery, whose mixed motives reflect the widespread corruption of the society. His reserved, tortured facade and enigmatic persona add a layer of intricacy and bizarre softness that puts the audience in the conundrum of whether they should root for him, or the guy that he keeps in a hangar behind the booth.

Stir in some ridiculous secondary characters, such as the Elvis-wannabe Dixie, her sidekick Tab, or the Morgan triplets who rob the toll booth, dream of becoming Instagram-famous robbers, and ride off towards the sunset (quite literally) in a vintage cabriolet.

Finally, bring all the ingredients together in a deadly finale styled after The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly and saturated with Tarantino’s unapologetic flair for sending the bodies flying across the screen.

And there you go. Bon appetit! Best served with a glass of Penderyn Madeira Whiskey. On the rocks.

If you have ever wondered whether, in the age of adaptations and remakes, it is possible to come across a story that grasps you by the collars and throws you in the midst of unprecedented action, then The Toll should be your answer. If I was to describe the masterpiece of director Ryan Andrew Hooper in one sentence, I would resort to envisioning it as a melting pot of influences that the auteurist grasp of the director moulds into a curious combination of Welsh Western and dark comedy.

Starring Michael Smiley as Toll Booth Man and Annes Elwy as the local cop haunted by the tragic death of her father, The Toll presents an intricate plot of betrayal and cahoots that gradually corrupt even the purest soul in the village.

By combining the most unlikely elements and styles together, The Toll makes history. It rejuvenates the tradition of Western filmmaking by reimagining it in Wales rather than America, by tuning it to the Welsh accent and language rather than the smug southern manner of cowboys and saloon bartenders. Instead of reflecting on the issues of modern America, The Toll subtly contemplates the changing socio-cultural landscape in Wales.

The Toll is the first feature film by director Ryan Andrew Hooper, a Broadcast and BAFTA-nominated filmmaker. It is his love letter to both Wales and cinema. Stunning shots of the near-deserted landscapes, the Welsh language, the accent, the almost indulgent beauty of each shot. Hooper’s artistry is omnipresent on the screen. Of course, The Toll wouldn’t be what it is without the brilliant writer Matt Redd. The sharpness of his script is what sends the film over the edge from funny through dramatic to endearing in the blink of an eye. It is his script that offers the pinch of dark Wes Anderson-esque comedy. Finally, it would be an unforgivable crime to skip the rare beauty of The Toll’s soulful, nostalgic, and at times whimsical score, featuring what I imagine must have been the mandolin, created by Rael Jones.

In short, Hooper, Redd and Jones are the perfect team. They weave the threads of comedy, crime and action with an agility that could make the Three Fates of Greek mythology jealous. They snap the lives of the characters with one cut, one line, one note, simultaneously pumping new waves of energy into the film with each plot twist. It combines the cynicism of the Spaghetti Western of Sergio Leone, the violence of Tarantino, and the comedy and nonsensical nature of Wes Anderson, consequently subverting the expectation of what it means to live ‘in the middle of nowhere’.

Zuzanna Filipiuk, Young Selector

Glasgow Film Festival 2021

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