Very Extremely Dangerous (15)

Film image
Director
Paul Duane
Starring
Jerry McGill

The ViewLondon Review

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Review byMatthew Turner18/10/2013

Three out of Five stars
Running time: 88 mins

Paul Duane's Very Extremely Dangerous is a riveting and occasionally terrifying documentary, though it's somewhat hampered by the fact that its central subject is a deeply unpleasant human being and it's also disappointingly light on McGill's fascinatingly colourful former life.

What's it all about?
Directed by Paul Duane, Very Extremely Dangerous is a documentary about hell-raising 70 year old Jerry McGill, who displayed promising musical talent in 50s and 60s Memphis and made an electrifying appearance in William Eggleston's experimental feature Stranded in Canton, but fell into a life of crime, eventually doing time for attempted murder, bank robbery and forgery, amongst other crimes. After being released from his latest stint in jail, McGill is contacted by Joyce, a woman he dated almost 50 years ago and the two get back together, picking up where they left off.

At the same time, McGill is diagnosed with terminal cancer and sets about trying to reinvigorate his musical career so as to leave behind something resembling a legacy. However, his demons dog him every step of the way: he has vicious fights with Joyce, steals from his friends and is constantly either drinking or necking copious quantities of drugs, both legal and illegal.

The Good
The film begins with a clearly terrified Duane screaming at McGill from the back seat of a car as he physically attacks Joyce, who's driving at the time; this frightening incident firmly fixed in our minds, the film then effectively flashes back as Duane recounts his experiences of following McGill around up to that point, including his treatment for cancer, a specially organised recording session and a couple of gigs, as well as his interactions with Joyce and a small handful of old friends.

Duane clearly has an affinity for stories about troubled and volatile but unquestionably talented old men – his previous film, Barbaric Genius, examined the life of former alcoholic-turned-genius chess player-turned-author John Healy. It's fair to say Duane has had a much rougher go of things this time round – he freely admits he's afraid McGill might stab him at any moment and as you watch the film you constantly wonder why he doesn't just walk away from the project.

The Bad
McGill is undoubtedly charismatic (a friend describes him as “a cross between Mick Jagger and Lee Marvin”) and there's a certain dark fascination in his relationship with Joyce, but the fact that he's such a relentlessly unpleasant human being eventually backfires, as you cease to care whether or not he achieves anything resembling redemption. On top of that, the film frustratingly skirts over the details of McGill's fascinating former life, though it's doubtful that he remembers all that much of it.

Worth seeing?
By turns shocking and saddening, Very Extremely Dangerous is a grimly fascinating documentary with a can't-tear-your-eyes-away quality that's not unlike watching a slow-motion car crash. Worth seeking out.

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Content updated: 23/10/2017 08:57

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