A movie with more than a whiff of cordite about it.
As I write this, I’m really struggling to evaluate whether the latest film of Ben Wheatley (“High Rise”) is a masterpiece or just pulp trash. It’s certainly a brave and highly distinctive venture, with that you can’t argue.
Set in Boston in 1978, an arms deal is going down in a deserted warehouse. Brokered by Justine (Brie Larson, “Room”) an IRA team headed by Frank (Michael Smiley, “The World’s End“) with his business guy Chris (Cillian Murphy, “Inception”, “Batman Begins”) are on the buying side. As ‘roadies’ they’ve brought with them a couple of crack-head friends Stevo (Sam Riley, “Brighton Rock”, “Maleficent“) and Bernie (Enzo Cilenti, “The Martian“) who are far from stable.
On the selling side is South African dealer and “international asshole” Vern (Sharlto Copley, “Elysium“), his suave and wisecracking protector Ord (Armie Hammer, “The Man From Uncle”) and Vern’s right hand man Martin (Babou Ceesay, “Eye in the Sky“). What connects all of these individuals is that no-one likes or trusts anyone else.
Unfortunately, one of Vern’s van drivers is John Denver-lover Harry (the excellent Jack Treynor, “Sing Street”) who has very recent personal history with Stevo. The fuse is lit, and when the two meet chaos ensues: in the words of Anchorman’s Ron Burgundy, “That escalated quickly”!
And, for a 90 minute film, that’s basically it. If you think after viewing the trailer “there must be more to the film than this”…. you’re wrong!
However, what there is of it is enormously entertaining. Played ostensibly for laughs, with very very black humour and an F-word and a gunshot in every other sentence, some of the characters – notably those played by Sharlto Copley, Arnie Hammer and Brie Larson – have some hilarious dialogue. The star turn for me though was Jack Treynor who was just so impressive as the ‘lost at sea’ brother in the delightful “Sing Street” and here delivers a stand-out performance as another brother on a mission… this time a mission of vengeance. You are waiting throughout the film for the inevitable showdown between Harry and Stevo – – and when it comes it is both bloody and memorable.
A cracking 70’ soundtrack, put together by the Portishead duo of Geoff Barrow and Ben Salisbury, involves 70’s classics by Credence Clearwater Revival, John Denver and The Real Kids and it’s hammered out at top volume over the action. The downside of this effect is that – for my old ears at least – it sometimes make some of the dialogue hard to follow.
As a policing exercise, the film clearly has merit. In the same manner as Schwarzenegger’s “Running Man” put criminals in an arena to cull them, so this must have reduced the crime rates in both Boston and Belfast no end! While some may not approve of the levels of violence on show, it is all done in a highly cartoonish way: like a “Tom and Jerry” cartoon, or “Home Alone”, everyone seems to get shot multiple times and yet (in the main) is still active and mobile. All of this makes criticism of the performances something of a waste of time, but I would comment that some of the acting is of the “over the top” variety: surprisingly, I found some of Oscar winner Brie Larson’s scenes falling into this category and snapping me out of the narrative at times.
But overall, my evaluation is now done and I am rooting on the side of it being a brash and exhilarating minor masterpiece. Yes, it’s one-dimensional. Yes, it is virtually impossible to feel any empathy with any of the characters, as they are all universally loathsome. But it’s a movie whose flaws are forgivable based on the characterisation and the cracking good script by long-term collaborators Ben Wheatley and Amy Jump.
Tight as it is within its 90 minute running time, I very much doubt you will be bored.
Fad Rating: FFFF.
(Note – content advisory: this is the red band trailer).