London Underground tube driver Paul Callow (Mackenzie Crook) is having a really bad time. Having inadvertently killed two people falling in front of his tube train and with bills mounting up, he hears that if a third person is killed whilst he is driving his tube, he will be pensioned off with ten years wages under the ‘Three and Out’ rule. The clock is ticking, and the race is on to find a suitable candidate..
Initially stumbling across this on one of the online rental companies, I skimmed over Three and Out to begin with until I noticed the cast list. Mackenzie Crook, Colm Meaney, Mark Benton – all very solid and dependable actors, but how can a movie about suicide be funny? In practice, thought, this is not a film about suicide – but escape, and the true nature of relationships.
Meaney and Crook make for a compelling double act, both actors skilled in comic timing, and there is clear chemistry between them – important considering the journey their characters undertake during the movie. Both their characters are dreaming of escape. Callow (Crook) to become a writer in Scotland, and Cassidy (Meaney) from his life. Their relationship moves from pure farce to more touching moments as they begin to realise they are more alike than they thought at first glance.
Yes, lets get this out of the way, the plot is unrealistic, the idea that the Underground has a ‘three and out’ rule is ridiculous, and Crook’s character following Meaney to the Lake District is stretching credibility to the extreme. But the farce is part of the movie’s charm and humour – even if it is grossly misplaced at times. Three and Out also wavers between moments of brilliance and dire moments to cringe through. Kudos to Crook who carries the film despite not being a conventional leading man. Here, he is more like Gareth from The Office, not wanting to be front of scene but thrust into it anyway.
A veritable who’s who appears in Three and Out including Annette Badland, Imelda Staunton, Gemma Arterton, Gary Lewis and Mark Benton amongst others. Staunton, in particular, gives a terrific performance as Meaney’s wife, beyond angry with him, but ultimately, still in love with him. Its clear that the film was made on a budget, and on a tight schedule. Had it benefitted from just a bit more breathing room, the final product might have been just that little more cohesive.
Three and Out, because it’s ‘controversial’ plot involving suicide generated a lot of upset on its release, but at its heart is an engaging, witty story with a strong emotional core. It might be clichéd, but the multiple layers to the story that focus on relationships, and trust, go far beyond what the controversy might have you believe. It is a shame that some elements jar rather than gel. The clumsily handled love scene between Crook and Arterton not being the type of escape either character is wanting by the look of how it is played and jars with the interplay between Staunton and Meaney in adjacent scenes.
Considering it is a film centering around the London Underground, it is amusing to note that within a quarter of a hour it isn’t until the end that we are back there. Certainly, as far as the interest goes for our Mind the Gap season, the Underground is a catalyst for events. The thought of this ‘three and out’ rule is a disturbing one. Certainly, suicides, or accidents on the network are not a laughing matter. At no point during the movie is this subject mocked. It is easy to understand the antagonism caused by the subject matter – and it makes the eventual ending all the more surprising – and it is unfortunate that the makers of Three and Out chose to focus on this aspect in justification of the film rather than what they were trying to convey.
Entertaining, amusing and engaging, but flawed. Three and Out is not a film you’ll remember forever, but is worth a watch. The Fiction Stroker gives it three strokes out of five: