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Film Review | Anti-Social

Though it skates on familiar ground, Reg Traviss's gritty crime drama tries for a more ambitious thematic sweep... to disastrous results.

teodor_reljic
Teodor Reljic
9 September 2015, 8:31am
Gun, with occasional graffiti: Anti-Social taps into the most bountiful wellspring of British cinema – the gangster thriller
Gun, with occasional graffiti: Anti-Social taps into the most bountiful wellspring of British cinema – the gangster thriller
The British gangster film has been a steady box office presence since, really, the appearance of cult hit Get Carter (1971), though latterly the genre was dominated by the figure of Guy Ritchie, whose Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998) and Snatch (2000) brought hard-talking, hard-shooting Cockney hard men back into the popular consciousness.

Though Ritchie has since moved on to glitzier fare like his (Robert Downey Jr. starring) Sherlock Holmes adaptations and The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (released just last month), the milieu that lent him his trademark stamp appears to be alive and kicking.

But perhaps the formula has become a victim of its own success. For in supplying eager young Ritchie protégés with a ready – and profitable – template from which to craft their own London gangland epics, it has enabled the production of some pretty mediocre films that nonetheless appeared to have kept their financiers happy enough to ask for more.

This certainly appears to be the case with Reg Traviss’s Anti-Social, a film that’s not only guilty of pandering to genre clichés, but on top of it all, also biting off far more than it can chew, innit.

 

Sibling pair Dee (Gregg Sulkin) and Marcus (Josh Myers) aren’t working for the system, but in their own way, they’re making the system work for them. Dee, an anarchic street artist, carves a niche for himself in London’s art scene, while armed robber Marcus begins to amass quite a bit of capital thanks to his illicit activities, primarily as an effective jewel thief. But Dee’s career ascent and promising relationship with American model Kirsten (Meghan Markle) is threatened when a gang war involving his brother erupts on the streets. 

One assumes that Traviss’s film got off the ground thanks to not just its family relation to British crime thrillers, but also its somewhat topical, post-London riots edge, as exemplified most prominently by rapper Plan B’s hit Ill Manors (2012). While this may have widened the film’s target audience considerably – at least in the UK – save for the right accents, cosmetic details and mannerisms, the character remain two-dimensional reflections of their generic forbears.

And though they may scowl and cuss like their male counterparts, female characters remain little more than arm-candy for our embattled gangster protagonists – Marcus’s girlfriend Emma (Sophie Colquhoun) being the Queen Bee, with Kirsten serving as her ‘naïve American’ counterpart, with all the nuance and specificity that the tag suggests. There’s some hope for the bewitching Caroline Ford’s Rochelle at first, but an uninspired script – also penned by Traviss – has other ideas.

And a particularly unpleasant development towards the film’s final act involving the film’s female contingent only underscores that they’re little more than devices. Without giving too much away, the development may have worked were Anti-Social an entirely stylized pastiche, but Traviss’s muddled stylistic choices – aiming for a ‘gritty’ and ‘realistic’ feel – demand a more sensitive approach to the atrocious behaviour at hand.

Plot contrivance, in fact, appears to be the only way for Traviss to hold this Frankenstenian grab bag of a film together. And boy, is it a grab bag. At various instances, Anti-Social serves as an expose of the young London underclass, a coming-of-age story, a ‘one last job’ story… and even, in a cringe-worthy scene, a treatise on the cultural value of street art.

It’s a script that’s crying out for a firm editorial hand – by turns overstuffed and rushed, with Traviss lacking the necessary skill to elegantly tie its various elements together, opting to let sudden twists and clumsy jump cuts to do the work for him.

That’s not to say the film doesn’t have any redeeming value. For whatever it’s worth – read: not all that much at all – the mix of theme and setting at least suggests that a highly interesting film could be made about the social fallout of the London riots, which in turn hints at a wider and extremely toxic divide between one percenters and the rest of England, with crime and vandalism serving as the only outlet for the downtrodden.

There are also moments of genuine, bona fide tension – bubbling gang violence, and elaborate heists being chief among them.

But it’s a pity that what’s best about the film lies either in unfulfilled potential, or the ghostly remainder gleaned from its influences, because the time may be ripe for the genre to have a bona fide artistic – and not just commercial – revolution.

Though Guy Ritchie’s contribution was largely borne out of entertaining but hollow pastiche of its forbears, the social angst of contemporary Britain makes for fertile dramatic ground. It just appears as though Traviss may not be the man for the job.

teodor_reljic
Teodor Reljic is MaltaToday's culture editor and film critic. He joined t...
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