Described by director Ryan Andrew Hooper as a “West Walian Western”1, The Toll is the latest in a long, crooked line of blackly-comic British crime capers.
Brendan (Michael Smiley) is a solitary, taciturn man who enjoys simple, solitary pleasures – which is for the best, given he works at perhaps the loneliest toll booth in rural Pembrokeshire.
One day, his solitude is broken by the unfortunate, coincidental appearance of a former colleague (Gary Beadle), part of the gang from whom Brendan has been hiding out for not quite three decades. This arrival prompts an avalanche of outlandish retribution from a number of peculiar local factions.
Matt Redd’s script largely avoids the worst excesses of the genre – pedantic, sub-Tarantino humour nonchalantly spouted by incongruous characters – though it does feature temperamental, bobble-hatted triplets on a low-rent crime spree (Gwyneth Keyworth doing excellent work as three distinct personalities), a female Elvis-impersonator crime boss (Evelyn Mok), and deus ex sheep farmers.
Fortunately, The Toll is leavened by Smiley’s wry deadpan, Iwan Rheon’s cocky delight as a leather-jacketed, Hawaiian-shirted henchmen, Paul Kaye as a lovelorn, hippy ambulance driver, and Anne Elwy as Catrin, the one good cop in town.
Rael Jones’ plangent Leone-esque score and Adrian Peckitt’s sweeping cinematography lends some scope to proceedings, but the film is perhaps most notable as the third film to feature Michael Smiley to be released in 2021. Between this, Censor, and Gunpowder Milkshake, he must be the hardest working character actor in the UK.2
If we are in the midst of a Smileynaissance, The Toll is at best a curio. Still, if you’re the mood for a knockabout crime caper, the cast make this an easy sell.
The Toll is now available to rent or buy