© 2007 by C.E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.
While watching CASHBACK, I suddenly had the
experience of déjà vu. I knew I had seen Sean
Biggerstaff in the Harry Potter films and Emilia
Fox in
KEEPING MUM and Shaun Evans in
other actors seemed overly familiar as well. And
the plot was vaguely like something I had seen
before too. Well, after the film was over and I
read the press notes, the penny dropped: I HAD
seen the film before -- at least a version of it:
the 2005 Oscar-nominated short. Although the
film lost to Martin McDonagh's
writer-director Sean Ellis was provided the
opportunity to flesh out his 18-minute movie
into a full-blown feature. The crux of the story is
there: artist Ben Willis (Biggerstaff) works the
graveyard shift at a local supermarket and
assuages the boredom by imagining he has the
power to stop time. Using that ability, he
freezes the customers and sketches the female
form (after undressing them).
Ben emerges as a complex character, one who
loves women but also one who observes women
as objects -- the artist in him wants to capture
perfection. In art class when he is supposed to
be drawing a male model, he sketches a pretty
classmate (and is told by his instructor to focus
on the model at hand).

Ellis begins the film in a very clever and
intriguing manner. With Ben's voiceover, we
watch as he is angrily confronted by his
girlfriend who clearly wants to end their
relationship. We don't hear exactly what she is
saying, but from her expressions and her body
language, her feelings are clear. At this point,
the audience isn't quite sure what to make of
Ben -- is he a real "prat," or is his someone with
whom to empathize?  For the first half of the
film, I couldn't make up my mind (and I tended
to go with the former) but somewhere around
the middle of the film, Ben began to emerge as
more sympathetic.

Following this traumatic break-up, Ben finds
that he suffers from insomnia -- with an extra
eight hours that he normally would spend
sleeping, he opts to work the night shift at
Sainbury's. Most of the other workers tend to be
bored silly despite the pep talks of the boss
(Stuart Jenkins). The others include the very
pretty Sharon (Fox), whom it takes Ben a while
to notice, the jokers Barry (Michael Dixon) and
Matt (Michael Lambourne) and Brian (Marc
Pickering), a martial artist.

The slight story revolves around how Ben copes
with his broken heart and how he tries to mend
it with Sharon. There are the requisite romantic
obstacles and a sort of
deus ex machina in the
form of a gallery owner (a cameo from Jared
Harris, who happens to be married to Emilia

CASHBACK is a likable film that is bolstered by
Ellis' terrific eye for composition. A trained
photographer, he has managed to translate his
skills to the moving image (something that not
all photographers can do) with some
breathtaking results. An extended fantasy
sequence at the supermarket is one of those
moments. However, Ellis is still feeling his way
as a director. A sequence on a football (that's
soccer to us Americans) field runs on a bit too

Still, the screenplay is peppered with amusing
lines and the characters are all fairly well drawn
Even those who seem to be crafted with broad
strokes are shown to be human.

CASHBACK is a charming and unusual romantic
comedy that is well served by its talented cast
and its upcoming writer-director.

Rating:                B
MPAA Rating:       R for graphic nudity,
                          sexual content and
Running time:       102 mins.

Viewed at the Broadway Screening Room
Sean Biggerstaff as Ben Willis
Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures