I LOVE A MAN IN UNIFORM Directed by David Wellington
A character in Woody Allen’s Husbands and Wives says that life does not imitate art—it imitates bad television. I Love a Man in Uniform is a movie about a man who seems pathologically trapped in that proposition. Henry (Tom McCamus) is an ineffectual bank clerk who aspires to be an actor, and
gets his big break when he is cast to play a cop in a cheesy, reality-based TV series called Crimewave. He takes his role to heart. And he takes his costume home—on the pretext of staying in character while rehearsing his lines. But there is madness in his method: adopting the uniform as a kind of fetishized armor, Henry starts to wear it on the street, posing as a real cop, until the line between fantasy and reality becomes dangerously blurred.
Smartly written and directed by David Wellington, 31, I Love a Man in Uniform is an ingenious, witty and darkly stylish drama about delusion and repression. Without actually disguising Toronto, Wellington makes the city look coldly anonymous. The police wear black leather jackets that squeak and
glisten with intimations of fascism. Yet, despite the film’s lack of obvious local references, there is something perversely Canadian about its vision—the divided identity of the antihero, the politeness that masks his anger, and his earnest embrace of tough-guy clichés for an American-style cop show. Henry is an outsider, desperate for an identity.
Cultural implications aside, the movie works well as a purely psychological drama, one that played to strong acclaim at the
Cannes Film Festival last May. But at home, where it is nominated for six Genies, it has been ignored in the best picture and best director categories—an outrageous oversight. I Love a Man in Uniform is, hands down, the most accomplished dramatic feature to emerge from Canada this year.
In the lead role, McCamus delivers a focused, edgy performance, an exercise in controlled rage that gradually gains ballistic intensity. It is a role within a role. And throughout the film Henry keeps reciting the macho lines of his Crimewave script like a mantra, lashing out at imaginary enemies: he is Walter Mitty recast as Robocop.
Along the way, he finds an imaginary girlfriend in Charlie, his Crimewave co-star, played with a singular blend of vulnerability and spunk by Brigitte Bako. Henry confuses their on-screen roles of prostitute-victim and cop-savior for the real thing. Surrounded by uncomprehending authority figures—an ailing father, (David Hemblen) and an indifferent director (Daniel Maclvor)—he becomes increasingly isolated, until he passes the psychotic point of no return.
Wellington elicits a disturbing empathy for Henry by telling the story entirely from the character’s point of view. The film-maker’s identification with him also creeps into the direction, which slips in and out of reality, just like Henry. One surreal tangent has a Marilyn Monroe look-alike robbing a bank, killing a man, then shrieking with laughter as an indoor wind blows her white dress above her waist.
But the film, sparsely punctuated with stabs of graphic violence, retains a visceral credibility. I Love a Man in Uniform unfolds with a compelling, single-minded momentum—as a lethal dressing-down of the male psyche.
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