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High Life
High Life (2009)
  • Director:
    Gary Yates
  • Category:
  • Writer:
    Lee MacDougall,Lee MacDougall
  • Cast:
    Timothy Olyphant,Stephen Eric McIntyre,Joe Anderson
  • Time:
    1h 20min
  • Year:
It's 1983, and hopeless junkie Dick gets an unwelcome visit from the past - his seriously sleazy former cellmate, Bug, to be precise. Bug requires a crash course in the 80s: different music, different drugs, and machines in walls that dispense money. The latter development gives Dick an idea.
Cast overview, first billed only:
Stephen Eric McIntyre Stephen Eric McIntyre - Bug
Timothy Olyphant Timothy Olyphant - Dick
Joe Anderson Joe Anderson - Donnie
Rossif Sutherland Rossif Sutherland - Billy
Jon Ted Wynne Jon Ted Wynne - Strung-Out Doctor
Steven Ratzlaff Steven Ratzlaff - Prison Guard (as Steve Ratzlaff)
Mark McKinney Mark McKinney - Jeremy
Ernesto Griffith Ernesto Griffith - Ken
Kelly Wolfman Kelly Wolfman - Lynn
Turk Scatliff Turk Scatliff - Jamie
Leigh Enns Leigh Enns - Addict 1
Will Woytowich Will Woytowich - Addict 2
Susan Kelso Susan Kelso - Addict 3
Harry Nelken Harry Nelken - Addict 4
Tracy Beemer Tracy Beemer - Nurse (as Tracy McMahon)

High Life (2009)

Joe Anderson and Timothy Olyphant would later star in "The Crazies" together

Sutherland (Timeline) Enns (The Lazarus Project) Ratzlaff (The Lazarus Project) and Hughes (The Lazarus Project) Kelso (The Lazarus Project) Mcmillan (The Lazarus Project) and Beemer (The Lazarus Project) have all played alongside the late Paul Walker

Olyphant has a line about the boy next door. He starred in "The Girl Next Door"

Hughes, Griffith, Woytowich were all in " "ATM" together. High Life takes place in 1983 when ATM'S were just becoming popular and the ATM plays a part in the film's plot.

After I watched this film, I checked out the trailer for it on the DVD. The trailer makes High Life look as though this is some sort of action thriller. What it really is, however, is a low wattage, dark comedy about 4 junkies on various stages of the junkie evolutionary scale that succeeds by never asking for any sympathy or understanding for its characters, only that you be entertained by them.

Dick (Timothy Olyphant) is a scruffy morphine addict and ex-con working as a hospital janitor in 1983 when his scruffier, sullen and violent ex-cellmate Bug (Stephen Eric McIntyre) shows up. Bug quickly gets Dick fired but Dick doesn't hold it against him at all, which tells you a lot about both men and their relationship. With no work and no prospects and a horse that shows up in the middle of his rundown apartment, Dick comes up with a plan for a big score. It's so big, he and Bug can't handle it alone, so they've got to recruit Donnie (Joe Anderson), a sickly addict who's developed a scam where he steals people's wallets and uses their ATM cards for easy money before putting the wallets back, and Billy (Rossif Sutherland), another addict with the looks of a high school heartthrob and the good luck to never have gone to jail.

Dick's big plan revolves around the repairmen who service ATM machines and it actually seems like a decent criminal idea, until it goes wrong from the very beginning and launches Bug into a shooting spree and leaves Dick covered in pink dye, waiting for the cops to show up.

The most interesting thing about High Life is the picture of junkie society it paints. Dick is a high functioning drug user that the others cluster around and unthinkingly look to for leadership. They all consider him smart, but Dick's brain is pretty well fried. All he can do that the others can't is think farther than 5 seconds ahead. A step down from Dick is Billy, who is the sort of addict that's cruised through life without anything all that terrible every happening to him. He's physically and mentally unscarred but his lack of suffering has left him incapable of taking anything seriously, even his own impending death. On the next lowest rung is Donnie, the meek little petty thief who's just going from hit to hit with no thought of the future. At the bottom is the tough but emotionally fragile Bug, who can't even function in normal society, though it's not at all clear whether his drug use has anything to do with that. The way these four men fit together in an informal social hierarchy is kind of fascinating, all the more so when drastic changes in fortune make all of Bug's weaknesses into strengths and turn all of Dick's advantages into drawbacks.

This is also a consistently amusing movie. It may not be laugh out loud funny but it you can't smile at stuff like Bug asking Dick about mutual friends, only to be told they're all dead and that Bug killed one of them, maybe you need to get high on something. Timothy Olyphant is delightful as a guy who used to be smart and now rummages through the drug-addled remains of his brain for inspiration. Stephen Eric McIntyre also does a very good job showing how Bug's temper and lack of forethought go from flaws to advantages based on the situation.

High Life is a nice little piece of work. It draws humor and a bit of humanity out of the harshness of life, without getting too full of itself or expecting its audience to care more than they should. This is worth watching.
This is low down fun. It has a very well-scripted, plotted, and thought through feel to it and there really are worse ways to send your time.

It reminded us a lot of Australian cinema, where losers just keep on losing but just more and more outrageously, and it is a film that makes you laugh mostly 'cos it ain't you.

All the characters are exactly that, characters, and all of them are nicely done. Everything from the get go just works and the take on the 80s is pitch perfect - no Reaganomics and Wall Street here, this is 70s hangover time to perfection.

A fun little movie with heart, drugs, and great, great incompetence...
The only criticism of this movie, is that it left me wanting MORE. It is one of the most darkly hilarious drug user movies I have ever seen, and each character was unique and quirky. The dialog, rhythm and strange twists and turns of the plot were highly entertaining. I would like to see more work in future projects by all these talented actors, who worked so well together. Rossif Sutherland, as Billy, was sensational, and presented a fascinating characterization. Timothy Olyphant was a very believable drug abuser, roughing up his usual extremely handsome appearance, and provided a kind of heroic center. This is edgy, brilliant work!
yeah. yeah. yeah. for me, it's the best dope shooter movie since drug store cowboy. but spun was really good too. but anyway, drugstore cowboy made me want to shoot dope, but this flick made me want to flush it all down the toilet. it is a big bummer. no glamor at all.

high life, shows that dope draws many types of people together in common junky endeavors--primarily getting high, but also in doing time.

these guys don't just share the junky drive, they also share the junky attention span. they're like two year olds--the world flying by them doesn't exist past six hours and the need for the next bump.

and timothy olyphant, man he's good. i'd watch a half hour infomercial if he was in it. and hopefully he'll just keep getting better--that is if he isn't pulled off course by some home-made junky fix, or he just gets burned out on all that Hollywood crud.

i really liked this, it's a good flick. the characters are well developed, but that's kinda easy--you probably know all these guys already; except i hope there's no bug in your life. cause' if there is, chances are you're living this movie and not watching it.
Caught this on Showtime, and it struck me as a real gem flying low under the radar. Though obviously not big budget, it held my interest and really worked. Excellent script, acting, etc. (For some reason it reminded me of Dustin Hoffman's "Straight Time".)

While Showtime has far more than its share of truly awful gay vampire flesh eating low budget considerable violations of the film genre pieces of crapola, sometimes, "even a blind pig finds an acorn every now and then."

Consider this little jewel a humble acorn undeserved by Showtime.

This flick really works. I've done some time on the street, and have seen the interaction of morons with reality. One is left pondering that classic bit of wisdom, "The best laid plans of mice and men, often go astray..."

But, even if you are a loser, you have to play out your hand. What the arty fartsy French existentialists would term, "La condition humaine."
What an unexpected Great Movie! Having come across this movie and noticing Timothy Olyphant in the cast, I decided to watch. Another fantastic movie that did not get press. Shameful.

Excellent acting. Each character was well crafted, quirky and emotive. Timothy Olyphant rocked as Dick. Each shot showcasing spot on facial expressions and genuine likability. Rossif Sutherland glides on the screen with charm and wit; hands down his best work. Joe Anderson was perfectly cast and so money, even with his "one lung". Stephen McIntyre made it hard to believe he was acting it was that good.

This was a stellar ensemble cast. Story was tight. Editing fantastic. Music kept the viewer involved and geared. Well paced with no slow parts. Consistently comedic interwoven with drama.

The joy of this movie is its slice of life character realism with their flaws just drawing you into their world. No perfect car chases. No crazy stunts. One very funny car honking scene.

This is one of those few movies I will watch again and again any time.
I saw High Life last night at the Toronto International Film Festival. As caper movies go, it was one of the better ones I've seen. The real focus in on the four hapless criminals, who are all interesting, multi- faceted (and often amusing) characters. The script is clever, and the acting is uniformly strong.

The film starts with the (now somewhat clichéd) tactic of showing the audience a scene of how everything has fallen apart for the four criminals during the heist, and then taking us back a few days to see how things got to that point. Make no mistake, this is a 'light' film and not a particularly memorable one, but it's a fun and often unpredictable ride that provided plenty of chuckles right until the end.

After the screening, Director Yates and the cast fielded some questions. Yates was an amusing guy and made some insightful comments (particularly regarding the fun soundtrack), but I was a bit disappointed at how flippant/glib Timothy Olyphant's responses were. Seemed like a bit of a douche to be honest--like he saw himself as 'above' the project or something.
How I love to discover hidden little gems like this dark comedy about a bunch if criminals. High on dope and low on IQ, high on aims but low on life, this film by Canadian director Gary Yates succeeds in being his most interesting so far.

With a serious undertone, still the main thing of this film is to entertain, but also gives a good glimpse into the everyday life of petty time criminals addicted to drugs. And entertaining it is, if you're not expecting too much of an action flick.

We meet Dick (Timothy Olyphant) and some of his bad buddies back in 1983, all dependent on drugs, and all except one, jail birds. Dick involves Bug, Don and Billy in a bank heist. Of course a very bad idea, with a very stupid gang, which has to go horribly wrong...

Well acted by all, suitable for such a comedy. A great and very suitable score follows the film throughout, adding to the pleasant watch. You might want more of the ending, but otherwise this does the job. You also might react to the cars being used in the film is very worn to be in the eighties, and the Mercedes used there didn't come into production until 1986. But that shouldn't ruin your enjoyment of watching this. It's not by any means a fast paced film, more slow, but relying in he acting. Nice little film!
It's 1983. Ex-con Dick (Timothy Olyphant) is a hospital janitor. He gets an unwelcome surprise visit from cell-mate Bug (Stephen Eric McIntyre) who just got out of prison and promptly gets him fired. Bug still thinks Dick owes him. Dick decides to recruit fellow junkies Donnie (Joe Anderson) and Billy (Rossif Sutherland) to rob the new fandango ATMs. The plan goes wrong and they decide to take an armor truck instead.

Olyphant and company play good hapless junkies. One can almost see their stink lines. There is some fun junkie hijinx. There are a few real laughs. The main thing missing is a first class director. Gary Yates is not really good enough. It's TV movie level work at best.
This low-budget crime caper about a quartet of clueless cretins who assemble to rob a bank qualifies as inspired lunacy. Director Gary Yates and scenarist Lee MacDougall have fashioned a funny little flick with good and bad characters. The morality of this piece is such that the robbers are punished for their notorious deeds. However, despite their abject failure to reap the benefits of their ill-gotten gains, the sympathetic ones are redeemed for a largely happy ending. The soundtrack ripples with memorable Top-40 hits, including Three Dog Night's "Mama Told Me Not to Come," April Wine's "Say Hello," Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Have You Ever Seen The Rain." Clocking in at a spartan 79 minutes, "High Life" doesn't squander a second and drums up many surprises as well as a refreshing sense of spontaneity. The personalities of these small-time criminals are etched brilliantly, too. Dick (Timothy Olyphant of "Hitman") is a hospital janitor, but he doesn't hang onto this job for long. A former prison cell mate, Bug (Stephen Eric McIntyre of "The Lookout"), visits Dick at work, and Dick gets fired in short order for Bug's shenanigans. Dick's other loser friend Donnie (Joe Anderson) who knows how to steal purses and wallets and withdraw money from the owner's ATM accounts. Dick concocts a scheme where Donnie will pull out $60 and then use other cards to get $54o. Dick recruits a romantic looking French guy Billy (Rossif Sutherland of "Timeline") who will take both the receipt and the cash into the bank and complain to a teller. Dicks hopes that the bank will contact the repair crew, and Bug and he will masquerade as a repairmen and raid the ATMs. Dick's well-laid plans go awry when the pretty teller, Alma (Brittany Scobie of "The Plague"), that Billy sweet-talks, decides not to inform her manager that the ATMs are on the blink. Instead, she takes the cash for herself. Incredulously, our protagonists watch her stroll off to lunch with the $540.

No sooner have our heroes witnessed this disaster than an armored truck whips up to the bank. Bug, who is high on cocaine, brandishes an arsenal of firearms. Billy pulls out his gun, too. Dick struggles to convince Bug and Billy from resorting to violence. Bug shoots Billy because these two haven't gotten along well since they met. Bug hijacks the armored truck with Donnie and his relative Lynn (Kelly Wolfman of "Reasonable Doubt") inside and takes it to their other former prison inmate friend, Moondog (Michael Bell of "Goon") who owns a garage. In a frenzy, Bug uses a jackhammer to drill a hole in the top of armored truck and pipe in carbon monoxide. He does this to flush Lynn and Donnie out of the vehicle. Meantime, Dick has helped Billy up off the pavement and put him in a car and they careen off to Moondog's garage. Dick watches as Bug pulls $300-thousand out of the armored truck. While nobody is looking, Lynn slips an exploding paint canister into the bag. Dick and Bug flee the scene to a ranch, but Dick refuses to ride off into the sunset with Bug.

"High Life" is an impressive comedy of errors. The cast is first-rate, especially Timothy Olyphant and Donald Sutherland's other son Rossif. Stephen Eric McIntyre makes a grim villain with a trigger happy streak in his warped psyche. Yates creates both suspense and comedy and the film never degenerates into a gritty, unsavory saga, as it could easily have done. I'd never heard of it unless I saw it on clearance sale at a Dollar General Discount store.
Many other reviews have covered the excellence of the stoned/junked-out humour and the overall kind of lackadaisical mood of entropy: everything going to a chaotic, baroque hell.

What I really loved in this little movie was the attention to detail. The costumes and hair/makeup for instance are brilliant. Steven Eric McIntyre couldn't look greasier, and his cold gray eyes burn holes out of his pale grizzled face. He struts into his first scene wearing clapped out flares and some seriously flash rattlesnake cowboy boots, reminding me of legendary close-up shots of gunfighters' boots as they stride into the road for a battle. Bug Is Here and things are going to proceed downhill at a steady clip. Later, you see big black and silver rings and a huge silver belt buckle of galloping horses, that fit right in with Bug's self-image of a bad-arse cowboy pining for his horse, Jezebel. It's fitting that he dies in the saddle, no? Pretty boy Billy has the perfect Euro-boy new wave-ish uniform of stripy tight t-shirts and pegged black jeans, along with big 60-ish sideburns and a flop of wedge-cut hair that was the hipster haircut of the early 80s.

Then there's some of the best use of soundtrack music I've heard in a while. The director has a similar gift for setting moods with music as does Scorcese and his legendary oeuvre that uses the Rolling Stones in pitch-perfect moments. This being a Canadian movie, it makes perfect sense to string the music of April Wine, along with screen shots of their vinyl albums and cassettes, throughout the movie. This band, along with CCR, 3 Dog Night and the kind of obscure (if you're not a Canadian who was in his 20s during the late 70s) Montreal recording artist, Pagliaro--set a very specific mood: that of balls to the wall lose your head stoner rock. I was a total new wave/mod/ska/punk snob in my early 1980s jr high and high school years, but I still have fond memories of secretly blasting stoner rock out of my headphones or car stereo and leaning back and just time traveling. This kind of epic release is what all of the characters in this film are searching for.

Lastly, there are the strange and wondrous uses of visual motifs: specifically, pink and horses. The morphine pills are bright pink as they are crushed in the ice cream scooper, then dissolved into a brilliant pink solution that courses through the veins of Bug, Billy and Dick. Billy eats a pink fluff of cotton candy, and the ice cream Bug pulls out of the freezer as they are cooking pink morphine in Dick's apartment, is pink strawberry ice cream. Junkies crave sugar, and in this movie, it's pink sugar that is their cracked ambrosia. When we first see Bug and Dick cooking up and getting high, there's a junky dream of thick pink slop reminiscent of the "cook" dripping over the edge of a cardboard box. (Incidentally, that box has an image of a big red barn that perfectly syncs with the big red barn that contains the horses that Bug finds at the end of the movie.) Then there's the mother of all pink paint bombs that so hilariously covers Bug and Dick, making Bug look like, in Dick's words, "a f*#king pink Chuck Norris".

And then there's the horses. First, we see them on Bug's belt buckle, and then he has a junky vision of a horse standing over him that he calls "Jezebel". (A childhood memory of a long lost pet? A sly reference to the junky slang word for heroin--"horse"?) Bug fancies himself to be a kind of twisted cowboy, and he meets his storied end covered with pink paint on the back of a beloved horse, on his way to South America. I just love that kind of attention to detail--it's what makes me want to watch this film over and over. And since "High Life" is on heavy rotation on Showtime, that's exactly what I've been doing, with the speakers turned up to 11.