dir Idris Elba
prd Gina Carter, Robin Gutch
scr Brock Norman Brock, Martin Stellman
with Aml Ameen, Shantol Jackson, Stephen Graham, Everaldo Creary, Naomi Ackie, Sheldon Shepherd, Akin Gazi, Calvin Demba, Antwayne Eccleston, Adnan Mustafa, Duramaney Kamara, Fraser James
release US Jan.18 sff, UK 31.Aug.18
18/UK StudioCanal 1h41
Word on the street: Ameen

jackson graham ackie
sundance london film fest
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
Yardie Based on a beloved novel, this dramatic thriller hinges on that age-old question: "Will you go with the righteous or the damned?" This choice is presented to our teen protagonist in the film's Jamaica-set opening act, although when the action arrives in northeast London, it becomes more of a standard British crime movie. At least first-time director Idris Elba creates a strong Caribbean vibe.

In 1973 Kingston, young D (Eccleston) is horrified when his cool older brother (Creary) is shot while trying to bring peace to a warring neighbourhood. Scrabbling for a living over the next decade, D (now Ameen) ends up working for record producer/dealer King Fox (Shepherd). When D gets in trouble with a gang, King Fox sends him on a mission to London. Which is handy since D's baby mama Yvonne (Jackson) moved there to escape Jamaica's violence. So she's more than a little annoyed when D immediately gets into trouble with local gangster Rico (Graham).

The title is slang for Jamaican migrants, so there's intriguing subtext as cultures clash and blur. While Elba does a terrific job highlighting these elements, the script offers little insight. Everything is fairly simplistic, as the plot ticks through the usual points with characters who are never particularly complicated. Dialog is sometimes preachy, shouting themes loudly rather than letting them emerge through what happens. Even so, the film is involving. But it's never moving.

The cast is full of life, anchored ably by Ameen, who has terrific on-screen presence. He brings complexity to the role, even as the script leaves D stranded in cliched situations, namely problems D creates himself rather than the more random authenticity of real life. His chemistry with the superb Jackson is the best thing about the film, even as their relationship is somewhat marginalised. Side characters register strongly as needed, but are rarely more than inspiring, pained, villainous or whatever is required.

If the script had centred more on D's internal journey than his drive for revenge, it might have been easier to connect with on a deeper level. But by remaining so resolutely plot-driven, the movie sometimes veers dangerously close to becoming a pastiche, with its heavy Jamaican patois dialect and rasta-head stoners. Thankfully, Elba also makes sure it's packed with lovely character moments and a terrific song score that hints at a much better movie in there trying to get out, perhaps an East End 8 Mile.

cert 15 themes, language, violence, sexuality, drugs 20.Aug.18

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© 2018 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall