(Rufus Norris, 2012)
At first it appears to be a kitchen sink drama about unhappy people in unhappy environs, then in its last act the film transforms almost completely into some kind of fantastical, kind of crass overblown melodrama. It’s not a terrible ending because director Rufus Norris executes it brilliantly, but it’s certainly completely out of touch with the film that comes before it. I can’t help but feel that if that’s what they were ultimately working towards then we should have had more of the sort of spiritual elements, the stylized, heightened drama of the final act peppered throughout the rest of the movie.
I also tend to think that the screenplay is a little all over the place. While the central To Kill a Mockingbird-esque familial drama is beautifully executed the handling of mental illness, and aggressive, abusive neighbours could have been handled with far more tact, more attention to detail, a greater deal more care and refinement than the frankly overly blunt, stupidly simplistic, and kind of unintentionally amusing treatment that they ultimately get here.
That said I think there is plenty of good here. As I said I think the finale is executed with great flair, especially considering Norris is a debut director, before that he keeps the drama compelling in the smaller quieter moments primarily because he gets terrific performances out of the vast majority of his cast.
Tim Roth steadies the ship like a pro, his occasional outbursts grounded wholly in reality, Cillian Murphy has maybe the most full arc of the principle cast, and he nails every moment of it with the skill you’d expect continually suggesting something beneath the surface. Rory Kinnear, one of the superstars of British productions of the past few years is saddled with one of the stupidest, simplest characters in the whole thing but handles and humanizes him about as well as anyone could be expected to, Denis Lawson bleeds vulnerability and heart, and keeps his equally stupid subplot as human as possible. That said the film is carried to its highest highs by Eloise Laurence, who wouldn’t have been more than 11 or 12 years old at the time of filming, and yet displays on screen an effortless professional naturalism for one who has never acted on screen before, she has a smartness about her too that keeps you (at least for me) entirely on her side every step of the way no matter how questionable some of her actions and behavior. She’s brilliant, and the real break out star of this effort.
Ultimately it is all very, very watchable, handling highly dramatic subject matter in super compelling fashion, very well acted, and generally well directed. It might not work entirely as a kitchen sink drama, or as a grand social melodrama with metaphysical elements, but it basically all works, and it flies by in no time at all.