Great Britain (96 mi) 2014 d: Simon Blake
This is another misguided revenge-gone-wrong saga, something of a holdover from the Charles Bronson vigilante justice movies from DEATH WISH (1974), but updated into a gritty, modern era, gang-infested North London atmosphere instead. While the look is intentionally dark and dreary, much of it seeped in blackness, where color is literally drained from the screen, this film immerses itself in wretched miserablism with a touch of added torture porn, where the painfully trite dialogue written by the director is cliché’d and overly predictable, exploring more of the surface reality than what lies underneath. Irish actor Aiden Gillen plays Tom Carver, a professional photographer specializing in street portraits of kids whose life is spiraling out of control at the moment, still reeling from the death of his own teenage son a year ago, who by chance bumps into a teenage street thug on the street, which escalates into a series of ever more brutal gang-related reprisals, turning this into a mind-numbing saga of neverending revenge. While meeting with his ex-wife Rachel (Amanda Mealing) to visit the grave of their son, a regular occurrence in their lives, she describes him as “You’re an accident waiting to happen.” No one knows how he got himself into this hapless situation or why he insists upon living in a cheap dive of an apartment in the heart of gang territory, but it’s clear that Carver’s way out of this self-imposed prison is to drink his way out of this pitiful state. Of course the more alcohol he insists upon drinking only makes him a more pathetic figure, no matter where he exists, but unfortunately the majority of this picture is immersed in Carver’s non-stop drinking. Other than Eugene O’Neill and a few other great playwrights, lead characters that drown their sorrows in alcohol are often a cheap substitute for realism in the movies, as here it adds absolutely nothing, but instead feels fake, like the audience is cheated out of a real performance by using a conventional device used on television. This actually undermines the entire film, where what might otherwise be tragic becomes self-indulgent and pathetic when seen through the eyes of a masochistic fool that insists upon heaping more misery into his already wretched existence, a guy who apparently lives by the creed misery loves company.
A low-budget film shot for less than half a million dollars, most of the action takes place in the cramped and claustrophobic confines of Carver’s apartment, where the audience is subject to long, drawn out, alcohol-fueled conversations between Carver and his ex-wife or Carver and his current girlfriend Christina (Elodie Yung) that only grow testy and irritable, usually ending with someone storming out the door in anger. These are not subtle scenes, but are instead full-throttle flashes of rage and resentment where passions rise in wretched excess, often playing the blame game, where the residue of past sins resurfaces in spectacular fashion. This personal more interior drama happening within the framework of a larger overall social drama is continuously in play, where the question becomes what influence each one has on the other. The weakest link of the entire picture is the constant presence of Carver’s supposed best friend Ed (Jonathan Slinger), a slimy character with a seedy side to him, as he’s a freelance journalist always on the lookout for a headline grabbing story. When gangs begin terrorizing Carver’s home, singling him out for street harassment, Ed goes on all-night stake outs trying to photograph the perpetrators in action and in this way identify who they are. Throughout the film we rarely see them, but only hear about their menacing presence, where there is power in remaining anonymous and unknown, as neighborhood fears only increase when people feel isolated and alone. Another developing theme throughout is a budding friendship between a young kid Jimmy (Joseph Duffy) that he photographs who’s brother was killed by the gangs, where he tries to offer encouragement and understanding, claiming he’s well aware of death and the feeling of loss, but the kid is sucked into the terrifying world of poverty, gangs and survival, toyed with and eventually targeted, where the hooligans want to teach him a lesson for befriending Carver. This coincides with gang targets of Christina, who is attacked in the alleyways just outside the front door, where she is shamed, humiliated, and ultimately defeated, leaving Carver to fume on his own.
Enraged by the gang’s actions, Carver’s life disintegrates before our eyes, as Christina’s departure seems to have sent him over the edge, where his thoughts turn to vengeance, where Ed acts is his trusted Iago-like confidant that always seems to encourage the idea of direct confrontation, though from his perspective it may be little more than a good story. Once Ed discovers the identity of the young kid, he’s a young street punk named Carl, British rapper Sonny Green (Sonny Green | The biography of Sonny Green) in his film debut, who is kidnapped, handcuffed, and dropped into Carver’s hands for his own brand of street justice. The idea of taking matters into one’s own hands and wreaking vengeance is never a good idea, in fact it’s a rather preposterous piece of theatrics that borders on the ridiculous. One doesn’t play God with other people’s lives, no matter how contemptuous they may be, and one should never allow oneself to get placed in that position. To be that distrustful of an existing legal system of police, courts, and law and order only feeds into the chaos and street anarchy mentality that the gangs want, because in that game they can rule by fear. Carver is just as psychologically unhinged and obsessed as Charles Bronson, where both think they’re doing society a favor by ridding the streets of these vile creatures, but like rats, there’s plenty more where they came from, and vigilantism doesn’t make a dent in the crime rate. What finally unfolds is a theater of two individuals, one drunk and psychotically deranged, while the other is a psychopath in his own right, but he’s still just a juvenile kid. While the adults unashamedly overact throughout, which grows irritating after awhile, the teenagers themselves are excellent, seemingly more natural, especially Green in this final sequence, where he more than holds his own onscreen, shaming Carver, who is wracked with guilt about his own shortcomings, seeing the world in black and white moral absolutes, where there is no in between, but Carl reminds him how much he neglected his own son while he was alive, where he didn’t even know him, where this haymaker hits Carver square on the jaw and comes as the final payback, suggesting there is a connection between indifferent parenting and gang culture, blurring the lines between innocence and evil, where in the end the boy he’s inflicting his wrath upon may as well be his own lost son.