Sunday, 16 July 2017

Trespass Against Us

Cast: Michael Fassbender, Brendan Gleeson, Sean Harris, Lyndsey Marshal, and Rory Kinnear

Director: Adam Smith  

99 minutes (15) 2016
Widescreen ratio 2.35:1
Lions Gate blu-ray region B

Rating: 6/10
Review by J.C. Hartley

Referred to, in some parts of the quality press, as a new British gangster movie, Trespass Against Us is hardly that. Set in rural Gloucestershire with accents to match, and dealing with family conflict, it’s hardly a travellers (pejorative redacted by reviewer) Godfather. The Cutler family, with their wagons in a circle in an English meadow, go hare-coursing by estate car, and spend their evenings around big bonfires, when they are not out thieving. Dominated by the figure of Colby (Brendan Gleeson) a flat-earth creationist who justifies their itinerant existence by reference to Jesus’ instruction to his disciples, basically ‘jog-on’, they are not an attractive bunch, nor is any attempt made to present them as such. Colby’s illiterate son Chad (Michael Fassbender) yearns for a different life, where his kids can go to school, get the education he lacks, and exploit the interweb for everything it’s worth. 

Early in the film Colby organises a protest to draw attention to the imprisonment of Chad’s brother Brian. The protest does not take the form of a petition to be handed to a local MP, or a sit-in outside the town assizes, rather Chad is instructed to paint a stolen hatchback bright yellow, daub it with slogans such as ‘Free Brian’, and ‘Fuck You Gavvers’, and drive it at breakneck speed around local shopping-malls and housing-estates. Chad comes up against a local bobby, the quaintly-named PC Lovage, a cheery soul who vows to get him.

Things go badly wrong when Colby organises a literal smash-and-grab raid on a local stately home, which turns out to be the residence of the Lord Lieutenant. Quite why he does this is never clear because, as Lovage points out, the raid makes the national news, and mobilises the constabulary to come out in, well, force, with helicopters and armed units. Does Colby want to head off what he sees as Chad’s rebellion by initiating a spell inside? Nothing is ever clear.

Despite the extreme unattractiveness of the Cutler entourage to nice, sheltered, middle-class reviewers like me, the film is nicely-paced and the performances are excellent, as may be expected from such a top-notch cast. Fassbender is as mesmeric as always, Lyndsey Marshal is brilliant and believable as Chad’s wife Kelly, wanting a life away from her father-in-law’s pernicious hold on her husband and her grandson Tyson. Georgie Smith as Tyson, and Kacie Anderson as his sister Mini, are excellent as the youngest Cutlers. Brendan Gleeson is horribly convincing as the paterfamilias using the Bible, his old Dad’s ‘wisdom’, and a sense of injustice and persecution to justify a life outside of the law. 

Unfortunately, the film ultimately fails to deliver a coherent narrative. There is a growing atmosphere of unease around the likelihood of conflict, but that conflict never comes.  Colby scuppers Chad’s chances to move onto a decent estate, all chalets and static caravans, and the pair have a brief scuffle. Colby seems to be making veiled threats against Kelly. The ‘cracked’ Gordon Bennett (Sean Harris) seems to be a danger, hurling fire extinguishers onto bonfires and trying to attach himself to Chad’s family, but in a scene of unnecessary cruelty Chad takes out his frustration and anger at Colby by covering Gordon in bright blue paint. 

Then, suddenly, just as the film appears to be reaching an inevitable flashpoint, when Chad is rebuffed in his attempts to buy a pedigree puppy for Tyson’s birthday, he ‘steals’ the puppy (he actually leaves the money) and gets arrested. Climbing an oak tree, he is joined by his son, exchanges declarations of love with his family, and in a Butch and Sundance moment with Tyson, leaps down into a safety net and into police custody. To quote Leiber and Stoller, ‘Is That All There Is?’ 

There are the usual extras: a ‘making of’ made up of interviews with cast and production team, and a film about director Adam Smith’s relationship with The Chemical Brothers.  Smith has collaborated with the band for some 20 years, on videos and stage presentations, and the soundtrack for Trespass Against Us was provided by Tom Rowlands. 

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