This week I got gifted to a free preview screening of this new prison drama starring Jack O’Connell. Eric (O’Connell) is a young offender with a real violence issue who is transferred for the first time to adult prison. He is prematurely transferred as the term ‘starred up’ means he has caused too much trouble for the juvenile prison to contain him. Things don’t go well to begin with at the new prison and then he runs into his father, Neville (Ben Mendelsohn), who is himself very quick to anger and has caused Eric some real emotional trauma in the past by being absent (presumably behind bars). An anger management counsellor, Oliver (Rupert Friend), tries to take Eric under his wing and begins to make real progress but Neville doesn’t like to think that someone is doing a better job with his son than he is and what follows is a gripping, gritty and important prison drama for our times.
In all the reviews I’ve read for the film so far the acting has been the main source of praise, and it’s hard to argue with that. O’Connell’s troubled youngster is so believable its hard to separate the actor from the character. A perfect example of the kind of kid that society has given up on. Mendelsohn is also brilliant, his Neville is short on brains and an obvious pointer to why Eric is the way he is, he’s made into a fully fleshed human being by Mendelsohn and is exactly the kind of character you imagine would exist in jail. The writing deserves commendation as well creating a simple plot that remains gripping throughout and really manages to gain an emotional attachment with the audience, it is only let down by an abrupt ending that seems a bit out of place and far-fetched, it’s as though they previously thought the ending didn’t have enough punch and ended up rushing an over dramatic set piece finish. That said it’s not enough to make you view the film as a lesser piece of work, this is one of the most complete British drama’s you will find at the cinema this year.
You’d be forgiven for thinking Starred Up would be a cheaply written, youth oriented prison drama for the Kidulthood generation but in reality this is a gripping, realistic portrayal that brings forward some important issues about our society. One of the very few great British dramas around, go and see it!
Now Danny Boyle is probably the biggest British director around after the success of Slumdog Millionaire and the small matter of the Olympic opening ceremony. It may seem strange then that his latest film, Trance, is a relatively low-budget affair costing a mere £13 million showing that no one can predict what the Academy-award winning director is going to do next. Trance is another new territory in terms of theme for Boyle as well, having already covered drug culture, sci-fi, zombies, romance and a man chopping off his own arm with Trance he goes right inside the mind with a twisting, turning plot of hypnosis and amnesia. The film is about Simon (James McAvoy), an art auctioneer, who is in charge of getting paintings to safety in the event of a robbery, when this happens however he bares the brunt of a blow to the head and when he comes to it turns it he was in on the whole thing but has completely forgotten what he’s done with it. With criminal, Franck (Vincent Cassell) and his gang breathing down his neck to remember the group decide they’re going to have to try something drastic in order to trigger Simon’s memory. They choose Elizabeth (Rosario Dawson), a psychiatrist, to hypnotise him in the hope she might somehow get the information out of him but end up getting a lot more than they all bargained for, the further we go on the more we find out that what we know about the events are not at all what they first seemed.
The film is incredibly plot-heavy and every ten minutes something new is revealed that gives everything a new meaning, at times it gets a bit much and there are various points where I was getting annoyed at the fact that we kept seeing the same things over and over but each time we’re told that the way we’d seen it before was wrong begging the question of why we needed to see it in the first place. On the other hand though the tension is built superbly throughout so when you begin to actually find out some genuine information about what went on it feels incredibly rewarding, when everything comes to a head in the films finale Boyle’s experience shines through and it results in a tense and action-packed few scenes that really get your pulse raging. It’s a shame then that overall the plot is over-heavy with twists and by the time it actually ends it all feels over explained when things could easily have been rounded off slightly earlier and the film would have been better for it. Trance has everything else going for it but unfortunately it lets itself down.
It’s not a complete failure, I was entertained the whole way through and there were moments were it was exceptional. Cassell’s performance was a stand-out and there are visual flourishes that look so good you’d be hard done by to look past them because of the over-exuberant story. It’s unfortunate that Trance does not quite stand up against its directors body of work but it’s not his biggest misfire by any stretch and it still manages to showcase his unique film-making talent that seems to lend itself to any kind of film you could imagine.
The new British black comedy, Sightseers sees director Ben Wheatley step in a slightly new direction from his two previous efforts, Down Terrace and Kill List. Both of which are excellent pieces of dark, gritty storytelling in a social realist setting that is quintessentially British. Sightseers sees odd couple Tina (Alice Lowe) and Chris (Steve Oram) as they head on their first ever holiday together. For Tina its a much needed escape from her overbearing, and quite hilarious, mother. It doesn’t take long before their trip takes a turn for the worst as Chris accidentally runs over a bloke with his caravan. As they go on they both begin to get a taste for killing and their thirst is realised in a series of brutal yet darkly comic murders of fellow caravaners and holiday makers.
There is still much of Wheatley’s social realistic style to be found here, but it is twisted just far enough to become parody without being too over-the-top. There is something so British about everything the couple do – a personal favourite moment involves Chris trying to wipe bloodstains off the roadside with Cif and kitchen towels. And it’s this realism that gives Sightseers it’s real humour. The fact that is so close to home. There are moments when many would stop laughing for it has just gotten to dark for it to even be funny, the end, in particular, done in a different way could be haunting. But I feel it’s done in such a way that is absolutely hilarious. There’s some fantastic dialogue an the two main performers, who also wrote the screenplay, couldn’t be more perfect for their roles.
Sightseers is not one to take the grandparents to but it certainly is one to show the mates and give you a laugh, I would be happy to re-watch it already I enjoyed it so much. Wheatley has continued his flawless filmography with a much-needed unique comedy, it’s true what they this is the best British comedy since Four Lions and could well be my favourite film of the year.
So this week I decided to watch Down Terrace, a gritty British drama directed by Ben Wheatley. Wheatley was the director of, the sublime, Kill List which came out last year and instantly became a favourite of mine so I was drawn to watch some more of his work. Down Terrace is set within Brighton and follows a family, who don’t appear to have been given a surname, that are in some way involved in some really dodgy business, my guess was that they’re in the drug trade but nothing was ever confirmed in the script. As the film goes on the family learn that someone has tipped off the police about their business and they start killing anyone who knows anything building up to a furious showdown at the end with a very big twist.
The film is incredibly effective, there are many similarities to the aforementioned Kill List, but there are also differences that set the two apart. For example, Down Terrace’s moment of extreme violence are a lot more sparse than those in Kill List and for this particular film it adds even more of a sense of mystery surrounding its main characters, these moments of violence are handled with expert skill in a film that, clearly doesn’t have the biggest of budgets. The actors all do a fantastic job, most of whom I didn’t recognise expect the Irish guy from Kill List, who plays Pringle, and the mother of the family Julia Deakin who I know well from Spaced, but the lack of known actors brings so much more to film’s integrity. It’s not especially uplifting stuff but it’s so well written and cleverly plotted giving you slices of information only when absolutely necessary and hinting at a huge back story that you’re left figuring out on your own. This makes the movie much more thought provoking and makes it seem so much more like real life. This is a much more realistic vision of life in a crime family, it feels like it really does capture a feeling that this could well be a true story.
I’ve now been blown away completely by both of Wheatley’s features as he seems to capture dark, gritty crime stories with flashes of hyper violence and does so with intricate skill. Roll on his third feature, due next year, A Field in England, this guy is definitely one to watch in future.