Today: February 24, 2024

ill Manors

‘Are you sitting comfortably? Well, put your seatbelts on ‘cos you’re in for a harrowing ride, ‘cos this is Ill Manors where dark sh*t goes on at night.”

‘Are you
sitting comfortably? Well, put your seatbelts on ‘cos you’re in for a harrowing
ride, ‘cos this is Ill Manors where dark sh*t goes on at night.”

Only recently a place synonymous with glory, pride and national spirit, Ill Manors sees East London revert to
dark and gritty form. Set in a downbeat estate in Forest Gate, the film follows the interconnected lives and
exploits of eight characters who call the ’hood home. Kind of like a gangster Love Actually.

It’s an explosive opening, with title credits boasting striking images
of urban night time London set to Plan B’s
own track, ‘I am the narrator’; a genius mix of hip-hop meets classical, which
is worth a listen in its own right. There are chilling throwbacks to last summer’s
London riots and shots of the film’s protagonists indulging in their respective
vice. It is a strong start and sets the viewer up for what, by Ben Drew’s own admission, is
uncomfortable viewing.

As would be expected, the language is heavy and frequent, there are
strong scenes of violence, and the subject matter is harrowing. We’re talking
close range shootings, prostitutes selling themselves for £20 to a chicken shop
man, and tings. The journeys we witness these characters undergo in this
dog-eat-dog world is upsetting at times, to the point of being almost unimaginable.
London can surely be dark, but is this really what the streets of Forest Gate are
like after sundown, or are we plied with a bit of macabre artistic license?
Either way, for 121 minutes, it’s worth suspending judgement and revelling in
the drama – watching from behind your hands is optional.

And let’s be honest, it’s probably not worth making the visit to find
out.

Concerns about credibility are short-lived as it becomes clear there’s
some real and authentic acting talent on show here. Drew prides himself in showcasing both professional actors – such
as Natalie Press and the popular Riz Ahmed who puts in a stirling
portrayal of the ‘bad-boy-trying-to-go-straight’ – and the hand-selected
complete unknowns. Ed Skrein particularly
shines as drug dealing geezer Ed.

It’s a real visual treat, with clever camera work, flashbacks and mobile
phone video footage gelled together to hipster effect. There’s also
interspersed music, with a track devoted to most characters, narrating their
back-story. A bit Sound of Music on
paper, but it works well and cuts out unnecessary exploratory storyline and
chat. In this way, the soundtrack massively makes the film and serves as a
constant reminder that this is actually quite an impressive debut for a
‘popstar’.

One thing that does remain unanswered is what Drew is trying to tell us; what’s the call to action? Though the
‘baddies’ certainly get their comeuppance, there are seemingly few concrete rewards
for the characters that ‘do the right thing’ or for those ‘trying to go
straight.’ There don’t seem to be any solutions proffered to the problems these
characters encounter, rather just a tragic nod to their cyclical nature. Just
as quickly as these characters’ stories unfold and reach their conclusion, there’s
a new wave of recruits willing to prove their mettle, queuing up to be embraced
in this ‘glamorous’ world of violence and destitution.

Drew clearly
sits on the nurture over nature side of the fence and seems to suggest that so
long as there are neighbourhoods ruled by male pride and male fear, and plagued
by unsavoury upbringings, things will not change. A rather depressing conclusion
and potentially a missed opportunity to make a constructive statement.

Flimsy moral standpoint aside, this is a seriously promising debut that
should not only cement a directorial future but ignite a few acting careers to
boot.

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