Brit-grit is the order of the day in this week’s ‘Best of British’ DVD round-up.
Ill Manors (Revolver) is the feature-length directorial debut by musician-turned-actor Ben Drew, who is better known as Plan B. Focusing on a succession of central characters based in and around Forest Gate, East London, over the course of a chaotic week-long period, Ill Manors follows Aaron (Riz Ahmed, Shifty, Four Lions) as he attempts to ‘do the right thing’ while everyone around him sinks to new depths in their attempts to make their next big score. Among his associates are cold-hearted ex-drug kingpin (turned low-rent dealer) Kirby (Keith Coggins), who has just been released from prison, vicious thug Ed (Ed Skrein) who will stop at nothing to find his missing phone, troubled junkie hooker Michelle (Anouska Mond) who is just looking for her next hit and trafficked sex slave Katya (Nathalie Press, My Summer of Love), who is desperately trying to escape from her Russian captors and get her new-born baby to safety.
After cutting his acting teeth with roles in the likes of Adulthood and Harry Brown, Ben Drew has already displayed a clear affinity for gritty material, and Ill Manors sees him move even further in this direction, with a jagged, intersecting narrative that recalls the storytelling techniques favoured by the likes of Quentin Tarantino and Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu. Glued together by a selection of typically hard-hitting original songs by Plan B, Ill Manors is a striking proposition that arguably represents Drew’s darkest work to date. Although many expected his debut feature to be the long-discussed movie adaptation of the best-selling Plan B album The Defamation of Strickland Banks, Ill Manors feels like a far more ambitious undertaking. It may be grim, troubling and relentlessly downbeat, but Ill Manors is a genuinely arresting movie that marks Ben Drew out as a real renaissance man. Brutal stuff.
In The Devil’s Business (Metrodome) two hit-men are sent to murder an old associate of their underworld boss, Bruno (Harry Miller). One killer, Pinner (Bily Clarke, the upcoming Outpost 11) is a world-weary old hand, while his partner Cully (Jack Gordon, Panic Button) is a nervy youngster, more used to hooliganism than contract killing. There would-be victim is Kist (Jonathan Hansler) whom their boss wants dead, but things are not what they seem in their target’s house, and the discovery of a make-shift black magic altar – and a truly shocking sacrifice – sends the duo into a psychological tailspin.
The Devil’s Business treads dangerously close to Ben Wheatley’s uneven, but undeniably memorable, Kill List. With a mismatched duo of hit-men coming unstuck when faced with English voodoo the comparisons are strangely inevitable, but Sean Hogan’s feature pushes the supernatural elements to the fore, exploring more overtly horrific territory, especially as the film plunges headlong into its twisted second half. If The Devil’s Business and Kill List were grafted together into some kind of mutant movie, the deficiencies of both movies could conceivably be eliminated, but such a suggestion defies both logic and plausibility! Whilst Kill List undid its hard work in the last reel with a silly final scene, The Devil’s Business culminates with a scene that invokes Don’t Look Now – which has to count as a positive! With a brisk run-time and a seriously modest budget, The Devil’s Business succeeds in spite of its obvious limitations. All in all, an ominous little movie that marks its director out as ‘one to watch’.
GBH (Revolver) tells the story of Damien (Nick Nevern, White Collar Hooligan) a London cop with a murky past that he is half-heartedly trying to put behind him. Before signing up for the police force he ran with a football firm, getting involved in dust-ups up and down the country. Now he’s on the other side of the law and faces a tough decision: bail out his old crew whenever they find themselves in a sticky situation or do his job. Damien’s grim hard-hearted world-view softens slightly after falling in love with fellow cop Louise (Kellie Shirley, Eastenders), but his old instincts are pushed to the fore once more when Louise is sexually assaulted by one of his former acquaintances in riot-stricken London, and Damien attempts to combat violence with violence.
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With roles for Con O’Neill (Telstar), Lorraine Stanley (London to Brighton) and Steven Berkoff (The Krays), GBH boasts an unexpectedly accomplished supporting cast, and it is a shame that – bar a slightly juicier (spit-flecked) role for O’Neill – they are largely sidelined. Although there is some snappy dialogue, GBH generally gets bogged down with a surplus of dangerously clichéd chatter, not least when the characters take turns to reel out one of a number of state-of-the-nation soap-box pronouncements. Although GBH presents an impossibly bleak environment, no effort is made to alleviate the misery with dark humour, giving it a wearying tone. Grim and heavy-handed, GBH ultimately makes for dispiriting viewing. While the filmmakers deserve kudos for eschewing the cheeky chappy school of cockney characterisation, points are knocked off for the clumsy handling of the aggressively topical storyline. All in all, a very difficult film to like.