Fans of comedy drama Shameless might recognise traces of the show in the opening sequence of Noreen Kershaw’s Act of Grace.
Fans of comedy drama Shameless might recognise traces of the show in the opening
sequence of Noreen Kershaw’s Act of Grace. The film opens on a familiar, Manchester council
estate setting, and the schoolyard violence and domestic unrest faced by main
character Dezzie wouldn’t look out of place on Paul Abbott’s popular TV series. Kershaw has even directed a couple of episodes of the show.
However, the similarities that can be drawn between the two don’t go much
further than the film’s opening ten minutes. Act of Grace quickly transcends
its kitchen sink roots, introducing various other genres which it then
awkwardly tries to jam together. The result, which contains elements of crime
thriller, action and romance, feels clumsy and incongruous.
After starting a friendship
with Chinese student Yasin (Chike Chan), Dezzie (Benjamin Adnams
and Leo Gregory) is accepted as part of the boy’s family. Ten years
later, Yasin returns and invites Dezzie to join him as part of a Triad gang.
This time jump, which occurs early on and gives us barely any chance to see the
characters forming their supposedly significant relationships, is the first
example of the film’s awkward pacing. We are shown brief glimpses of dialogue
or moments that are clearly intended to resonate throughout the film, but which
flash by so quickly they simply make the plot feel rushed. The character
development also suffers; Dezzie’s relationship with Yasin’s sister Mui (Jennifer
Lim), for instance, doesn’t feature enough early on to create the emotional
response that is clearly intended by their eventual romance. “We were breaking
ancient rules,” remarks Dezzie’s overheard narration, but the only thing that
feels broken is the film’s ability to build tension.
This lack of suspense is present
throughout Act of Grace. Any friction between rival gang members becomes lost
in the twisting narrative, so that when moments of violence do eventually
erupt, they don’t carry the desired impact. It doesn’t help that the action
sequences feel like something out of a Steven
Seagal film, coming complete with extreme, slow-motion deaths and
ridiculous “thwacking” sound effects that are tacked on to every punch.
Despite its many flaws,
though, Act of Grace still contains traces of what could have been a better
film. Leo Gregory gives a solid lead performance as Dezzie, and Shameless
regular Jody Latham has a memorable supporting role as his hot-headed
younger brother Joey. Occasional moments of humour also stand out in the
script. On seeing Dezzie again after ten years, Mui expresses surprise that he
is still wearing the butterfly necklace she made him as a child. His response –
“I tied the knot too tight, couldn’t get it off” – contains a light-heartedness
that might have benefited the rest of the film.