Udo Kier is far from his own end, but Swan Song gives him the chance to replicate the feeling of bowing out at the top of your game. His twilight years have offered him roles that test his calibre as a performer, but Swan Song is a rare leading role for the veteran actor. Leagues above Iron Sky or Downsizing, yet those roles were fleeting oddities. This feature film from Todd Stephens is an offer for him to make good on the clear talent he has. He has shown it before, and in recent years has exercised it, with appearances in Dragged Across Concrete and Brawl in Cell Block 99. But this lead role as a retired hairdresser, adrift and shunned by the clients he used to cater to, is a startling role that sees his talents bubble up to the surface.
But what surrounds Kier is less than stellar. He is the man adrift with a great performance in an amicable film. Nothing within Swan Song inspires excellence, except for the leading man many will turn up to see. Pat Pitsenbarger (Kier) is a man in the final days. He resides in a care home, and with the chance to spark a bit of life into his career as a hairdresser, simply cannot give up. There is a beautiful memento to that notion struck well by Stephens. Its implication is that no matter how old or tattered someone is, they can strike through and make a difference or impact on their dreams and goals. We are never too old to get started, and a role like this shines new light and a new era on the 76-year-old veteran screen actor.
There is much improvement for Stephens too, his independent stylings and direction flourish in dream sequences and remarkably effective use of extreme close-ups. He burrows deep into the frustrations and hurt Pitsenbarger feels for a former client who has passed and has asked him to style her hair for the funeral. Money is good, but at that stage in life, what good is money without those to share it with? What follows from there is figuring out why Pistenbarger wishes to carry out the last will of a woman he had no professional relationship with. Swan Song soon becomes a reminiscent film. Kier embodies a professional who has left that life of hairdressing behind him, yet even with this emotional connection intact, the parts don’t quite add up, making for a slightly clumsy narrative that attempts to extract deep meanings from the isolation this character feels, rather than the professional shun he is handed.
Kier reminds us that even without leading roles, he can fashion out a thoroughly incredible career. Harry Dean Stanton did the same, and whenever he was thrown a starring part, he would make use of his time in the spotlight. Kier is the same, and with Swan Song, his approach is a strong one. He has realised the opportunity and seized it. Calibrated for a flashy showcase, Swan Song offers the luminous lighting, the overpowering fashion style and the larger-than-life persona Kier presents is marvellous. “I’m back,” Kier says in his opening line. Did he ever really leave? Or did he just find his way back to the top, with a monumental shift in style and pizazz?