Two guns. Two best friends. And a pact to end their lives when the day is done.
Similar to Carlos Lopez Estrada’s criminally underseen Blindspotting, On the Count of Three deals with two frustrated young men who are trapped by societal systems beyond their control. Propelled by two dynamic performances, the spine of this timely film is an unabashedly wicked and dark sense of humor that makes some of the thorny issues Jarrod Carmichael puts under the microscope a bit easier to take but it doesn’t rob them of their incendiary nature.
The film starts with a jolt as we see lifelong friends Kevin (Christopher Abbott) and Val (Carmichael) pointing guns at each other’s faces, ready to carry out a double suicide pact. Before we see the result, the film rewinds to events from earlier that day. Kevin has been placed in an institution after his latest suicide attempt and though he desperately wants to be released, the powers that be deny his request. Meanwhile, Val has gotten a promotion at a job that he hates and feels as though life is filled with nothing but dead ends for him. After his own failed suicide attempt, he goes to spring Kevin and after a heated conversation, decide to kill each other but not before embarking on a one last carefree, madcap day.
We see the duo visit old haunts, drop by their old place of work and finally go to see Kevin’s old therapist (Henry Winkler), intent on killing him as well. Why he would want to do this and the real reason behind Val’s despair are revealed, both providing a plausible rational for their behavior. Credit Abbott and Carmichael for the gusto as well as emotional vulnerability they bring to these two overgrown boys; though they may be men in terms of their age, circumstances have stunted their emoitonal development, a hobbling that will contribute to their ultimate fate.
You have to admire Carmichael for not taking the easy way out where his script is concerned. He does not opt for a happy ending but rather one that speaks to the sense of rage and helplessness so many are feeling right now. And while the film’s devastating final image offers a glimmer of hope, Count still maintains its narrative integrity, refusing to sugarcoat the fact that the system has failed these two men and so many like them. Their ability to heal and live a happy life is not out of the question, but it will be fraught with roadblocks and hard-won.
3 1/2 Stars