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Culture Reviews
VI Annual British Film Festival
By Alex Meredith
If I have one recommendation for next year’s British film festival it is that the organisers put someone from the “Visit Britain” department on the selection panel. Though sponsored by a British airline, this year’s morbid assortment – featuring an al-qaeda cell, a gun-toting gangster mob and a vengeful serial killer – are unlikely to have anyone running for the first plane to London. In fact, so dark was the picture of my homeland that I watched unfold during the final 2 films I caught on Sunday night that I was surprised to find the Home Office anti-immigration squad hadn’t had a hand in the funding. Russian recruitment agencies also missed a trick by not waiting outside to sign up a traumatised audience desperate to avoid a return to the blood-soaked streets of Blighty. Suddenly a Saturday afternoon of Red Square document checks seemed like a rather cushy option.

To be fair, with titles like “Dead Man’s Shoes” and “Bullet Boy” I knew before I went in that I was unlikely to see a cameo from the Chuckle Brothers. But with the former clssified as a “black comedy” I thought there was at least a chance of I some light relief. Now I might be getting old, but Shane Meadow’s tale of an ex-commando psychopath setting about the cold-blooded murder of the 6 twisted friends who brutally tortured and tormented his mentally disabled younger brother was struggling to get a laugh out of me. This film is darker than a December afternoon in Norilsk.

But dark films are not necessarily bad films; a good cast and a punchy script are two ways the director can draw something of beauty from the murky depths. Sadly, Dead Man’s Shoes has neither of these, leaving a very clever, subtle twist as an isolated triumph amongst the film’s other failings. The ending casts new light on certain scenes of the film, which become far more poignant and intuitive once the full truth is known. Unfortunately, however, this invitation to retrace your steps might also see you stumble across some woeful acting (the band of abusers for all the fancy dress and weak accents made particularly unconvincing village idiots) and a couple of fine slices of ham served up at the dialogue counter. “I should have stopped this then” confesses the last of the bad guys as we approach the finale. “I wish you had, as it would have saved a lot of carnage” our axe-wielding hard man helpfully replies as if they were discussing the pit-falls of choosing the wrong queue at the post office. The clich? of the last man (who, of course, has the added burden of a family) being sparred and punished with a lifetime of guilt is also a rather lazy way to round this part of the film off.

In general the intense performance from the lead (Paddy Considine) makes for a chilling, calculating portrayal of the powerful forces of anger and revenge. It is just when he opens his mouth that I felt a bit more comfortable, reducing the film’s credibility. If this and the casting of the goons had been remedied and had his kills been better timed and more cleverly thought through, then this could have been a convincing and heart-rending thriller. As it is, the slaughter of such bafoons amidst the Derbyshire scenery becomes a bit like Seven meets Postman Pat.

Turning south to the streets of the East end of London, there is a competitively high kill count in the BBC funded “Bullet Boy”. However, here the writing and directing team had not even tried to find an original angle from which to satisfy their blood-letting urge, and the result is a pedestrian, uninspired drudge. Delinquent black youth from deprived urban background comes out of prison intent on changing his ways; falls back in with wrong crowd; gets caught up in spiral of gangland violence causing the destruction of his family and a few pointless shootings before winding up dead himself. Frankly, we have seen this painfully predictable tale of urban woe before. Usually, however it is accompanied by at least some sort of innovative input from someone. The school-play acting does not help, but a storyline as overdone as this needs something more than some shiny weapons and a gratuitous sex scene to rescue it.

The only thing that makes this movie stand out is the ridiculousness of the pivotal scene. How any director can produce a film in which the mindless shooting of at least 5 people including a 12 year old stems from a collision with a wing mirror whilst driving past a kebab van without the slightest touch of irony or dark humour is absolutely beyond me. Though I am not so na?ve to think that such a spiral of violence in the proud world of the gang is completely unconceivable, surely we need a little objectivity from somewhere? The lack of any sort of nuance or subtlety gave me the feeling I was watching a government funded educational lecture on the evils of firearms. When coupled with the lead’s incessant “What’s the matter man?” (its frequency should have made it the title of the film) and the constant pouting of his little brother this makes the whole film utterly infuriating. By half way through, even the projector had seen enough and decided to chew the reel in protest. Resolving the problem and continuing the show was one of the biggest disappointments of the evening.

Having seen the better funded “Layer Cake”, “Trauma” and the more uplifting “Enduring Love” before, I thought opting for the less well distributed flicks might reveal something to cheer about in the dark corners of British cinema. Disappointingly, on this evidence, film-makers at home seem to be trapped in a spiral of violence of their own. I left in search of an hour of Richard Curtis and a strong cup of tea.

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