Aren’t we all the heroes of our own narratives?
The Glass Man, at last released to the wider public after having been made in 2011, is, thankfully, as box-fresh as it was then – a relevant, eternal and enduring character study delving into the stories we humans can’t help but make up, to make sense of the world.
Martin Pyrite is in a pickle. Within ten minutes of The Glass Man opening, we have the set-up: Martin (the mesmerising Andy Nyman) is horrifically in debt, hiding the fact from his health-conscious wife, Julie – the wonderful (and evidently ageless) Neve Campbell, of Scream fame, wielding a rather sharp knife to slice fresh oranges. Can it get worse? Of course it can. He’s also been fired, pretending to go to work each day while trophy wife Julie casually asks for her bank account to be topped up.
He is literally the glass man: in a painful visit to his office to collect his reference, former colleagues stare straight through him, ignoring him when he tries to speak. Martin is as invisible as a windowpane… and he’s fast learning that there’s the truth, and other versions of the truth – and that people he considered friends are throwing him to the dogs to keep their jobs. His reference is full of lies, is threatened with counter legal action if he sues, and is then humiliatingly clapped out of the office.
There follows a touching scene where he spends his last pennies in an Italian ice-cream parlour, drowning his sorrows in a grande tub of mint choc-chip gelato. Things can’t get much worse, until… enter James Cosmo as brutish debt collector Pecco. Pecco offers to wipe out Martin’s debt if he’ll go off into the night and help him out, just this once. It’s an offer Martin is in no position to turn down.
It’s not the first time a film has played on the trope: a high-flying, well-renumerated upper-middle-class businessman too proud to tell his spoiled, pampered, beautiful wife he’s lost his job, preferring to let her think he’s having an affair, able to confess only to her medicated sleeping form (bathed in flattering lamplight, obviously, as she lays motionless and serene, complete with make-up, earrings and a blinger of a wedding ring). That’s fine by me; trope away. Every single frame of this film feels deliberate. It’s so lovingly done (there’s even room for a wonderful rom-com Richard Curtis style moment within one of the film’s most pivotal scenes), and its familiarity makes it all the more endearing, not to mention heart-breaking. As Martin’s circumstances inevitably, inescapably spiralled, I began shouting at the screen, knowing I couldn’t do a single thing about it. Besides, it is no spoiler to say that things are not exactly as they seem. Martin is your traditional unreliable narrator and, interestingly, so is Pecco, as it turns out.
Watching Andy Nyman is like being in the midst of an acting masterclass. He plays the role with just the right balance of comedy and pathos. The only drug Martin does is aspirin, if he has a headache, and even then he tries not to. He displays a dogged David Brent-type determination to find a brown belt to go with his tan shoes. In another’s hands, this gentle humour in the blackest of situations would be lost (I fondly remember Nyman offering his intestines to a pack of attacking zombies in the TV show Dead Set). The times where we are with Martin alone, talking his thoughts aloud, are exquisite. Then there are his interactions with his slowly imploding world: watch out for a brilliant conversation in a multi-storey with dialogue reminiscent of Round The Horne, and the tragi-comic scene with HR at the firm he’s devoted his entire working life to. That Nyman is also a magician, and an incredibly accomplished, respected one at that, probably explains the control he has throughout. There are some emotionally excruciating moments where I defy anyone to not want to reach out and hug him, yet simultaneously screaming at him in frustration. He makes you forget he’s playing a role.
Cosmo is his perfect sparring partner, in complete opposition to this mild-mannered, vulnerable businessman. He’s as hard as a rock, and downright frightening with it. With a large, looping scar covering half his face, he screams “danger” at the first glance, and his lean, meaningful dialogue is the kind you only realise the importance of once it’s all over. Together, they make it impossible to look away from the screen.
Disturbing and unsettling, yet thoughtful and warm, The Glass Man is written and directed by Cristian Solimeno, whose pitch-perfect appearance on screen triggers a “what the…” tsunami. It’s low-key and beautifully shot thanks to director of photography Bruce Melhuish, making the very best use of Martin and Julie’s sumptuous, expensive home – the kind that has very old, very expensive, and very unread books displayed prominently on a shelf (when asked why he has them, Martin shakes his head. “Dunno,” he comments).
The attention paid to barking dogs and television chatter, that general background noise of life, is so immersive. There’s a lovely long shot of Martin parking his car for no other reason than that he’s parking his car. There are more psychogeographic scenes where the horror lies not in guts and gore, but in the shadows. Subtle, effective jump scares occur in the first few minutes which will have you thinking twice about loitering near the letterbox.
A short but stand-out scene is when we momentarily jump from Martin’s viewpoint, looking voyeuristically in from a pitch-black garden as Martin tries to prove he isn’t having an affair (he wouldn’t – couldn’t – we know that), the camera creeping steadily, and shakily, up on them to the window, and, crucially, breath forming on the glass.
They are not alone. Or are they?
And that’s where the beauty of it lies – the viewer is constantly having to reassess the truth.
Accompanied by a lush, melancholic score rich in piano, violin and cello composed by Oliver Newman, The Glass Man has many quiet moments, and yet is filled with so much; a film I will return to again to truly appreciate its complexity.
The Glass Man is available to watch in the UK on digital download platforms.