Guy X is a slow-paced military drama with subtle hints of black comedy and satirical undercurrents. The story of a soldier trapped on a remote base in Greenland in 1979, a base with a secret purpose which the grunts are unaware of, is slowly unravelled in this surreal and thoughtful movie.
The central character is Rudy Spruance and we join him as he disembarks rather rapidly from an airplane onto a deserted runway. He gets a lukewarm reception at his new home and is horrified to discover that instead of reaching Hawaii he has in fact arrived in Greenland. To make matters worse the commanding officer seems convinced that Spruance is actually called Peterson, the Public Information Officer he has been waiting for, and immediately puts him to work on a newspaper.
The base is full of colourful characters, most have been sent there to keep them out of the way after they made a mistake or got on the wrong side of someone with power. Lane Woolwrap is in charge, a veteran of some war or other, and he acts like a dictator. Having tried to explain the mistake and then trying and failing to escape from the base Rudy eventually resigns himself to life in Greenland for the foreseeable. He soon crashes Woolwrap´s romance with Irene Teal and begins an affair of his own with her.
The mood of the film is very laidback, subtle humour and great characterisation abound but the pace is very slow, the script is fairly sparse and the general impression is of a wandering plot which is going nowhere and won´t be hurried. The isolation and madness which would afflict people in these circumstances is evident and well handled by the cast and director. The first half of the film feels like Catch 22, with its surreal digs at the stupidity of bureaucracy and random cruelty of life in the military. The range of hopelessly disillusioned characters and Rudy´s foiled attempts to escape offer some black humour but his blossoming romance with Irene is less convincing and seems fuelled by boredom as much as any real feeling.
The film gets more interesting when Rudy stumbles into a secret ward and meets the horribly disfigured Guy X. The plot focus shifts to this new discovery and Rudy sets about solving the mystery of the secret ward. Towards the end events gather pace and collide in a somewhat muddy conclusion.
The direction from Saul Metzstein (Late Night Shopping) is quite engaging; it feels fresh at times but veers towards the ham-fisted and predictable at others. The slow pace of the film is unusual and along with the stark setting built a mood of despair and pointlessness. The absurdity of the situation was cleverly revealed, the brief bursts of black humour worked well and the characters were intriguing but the romance was weak and the story didn´t come to a satisfying resolution.
The cast here did well. Jason Biggs proved that he is capable of more than just an embarrassed teenager with his portrayal of Rudy, a complex drifter with a firm resolve. Natascha McElhone also did a decent job as Irene Teal and the supporting cast added a rich diversity with a strange mixture of characters. The best performance was from Michael Ironside as Guy X, who despite having few scenes seemed to dominate the film as the broken veteran.
Guy X is very much in the spirit of Catch 22. The pointless wastefulness of war and the absurdity of life on a remote army base are left in no doubt. The story is interesting, the acting is engaging and the direction is mostly very good but this failed to provoke on an emotional level and ultimately left a pretty flat impression.