Bum. What a let down. The box cover looked great. The concept looked fascinating, funny and fantastic. The execution…twenty minutes of oddly shot loveliness becomes…no. Just no. Duck.
It’s the story of an old man drenched in loss. Philip Baker Hall is Arthur Pratt. You’ve seen him in everything. And you’ve seen Arthur everywhere as well. He lives in at least ten rooms in this home to my knowledge, in different forms of sadness and despair. In one room you can hear the nightly beating of his head against the window as he tries to end it all.
Old Jack was feeling hugely sympathetic to Duck at the start. Hall feels like a mate, crunched down on by life (by the loss of a son in the 1970s and a wife more recently), and one who needs you to listen and be close to keep him on an even keel. Like Ram in Natsamrat (2016), Arthur doesn’t get that support and is busy bundling pills into a tin as he leaves the house to bury his wife’s ashes. It’s his last trip. He’ll do his final duty by her, then join her beyond the veil…
And that’s me three weeks after Mrs Jack left the planet. But I was lucky. Young Steve and Jacketta wouldn’t leave me alone. The answer for Arthur, meantime, comes waddling up to him as he lies by the tree he’s planting his wife under. A duckling. New life. Something to serve. Oh yes.
And then it all goes a bit rubbish. Hall is giving a lovely performance – all character-actor-gets-the-lead – when he picks up his new buddy Joe, going in search of the duck’s family. He succeeds, but – yikes – they are squished piles of blood, guts and feathers on a cold road…
With little choice, Man and Duck become friends. Which is obviously all about Hall doing the work for the two of them. In the round, he succeeds. But the film becomes a series of encounters (vignettes one might say) that underline the cruelty and abandonment of people by people. Which is depressing. And Joe grows up pretty much instantly, losing all his charm in the process.
Duck is a muddle. Old Jack thought it would pursue the friendship and redemption of Arthur from the self-indulgence of suicide. Wife, life and son are gone, but topping yourself ain’t the point. That’s why we get visitors in these lonely corridors: just to make sure we don’t jump off the edge. Everyone knows the dying days are ghastly and, you know, why bother..? Duck doesn’t help.
And…that’s that. Hall is great, but given nowhere to go. Joe is no doubt played by a flock and simply not up to the task of conveying subtle emotion. Character turns come and go. And old Jack here was more distracted by the lousy grading (outdoor scenes are a tacky orange colour) and general air of film school cheapness, than any telling points about society, its old folk, and the need to cling on through emotional connections with people and / or fowl.
Hey ho. It’s on Amazon Prime in what – to be fair – may just be a poor copy. I’d watch the first half hour and pretend it’s a touching short about a widower and his new buddy. Then go for a walk.