Ill Manors – Review

Ill Manors (2012) 

Director: Ben Drew. Cast: Riz AhmedEd SkreinNatalie PressAnouska MondLee AllenMem Ferda.

This is a very hard film to review… And as a matter of fact it was a very hard film to watch too. More than once I found myself having to look away from the screen, just to be able to catch up with my breath and I had to remind myself “It’s only a movie… It’s only a movie”… Or is it? Sure one would want to give the film some credit for attempting to talk about some really serious issues in a stark and crude realistic way. However I find myself wondering: just because a movie touches important issues and goes to places where many don’t even dare looking, does that make it a good film?

Ill Manors (still trying to work the meaning of the actual title) is clearly a film made by a first time director: it’s full of energy and ideas. It’s inspirational too… But  unfortunately some of the inexperience shows up on the screen too. It’s almost as if director Ben Drew didn’t feel confident enough of his own material and felt he had to pepper the film (unevenly, I may add) with a series of flashy visual devices: some of them work, but then, once the story takes over, the film almost forgets to keep up with them. It makes me wonder if Ill Manors could have been a much more powerful film, if the director had actually restrained some of that rather showy visual style and un-linear editing and had just concentrated more of the story. I’m not against time-laps or montage sequences edited to rap music (some of which were actually beautifully done), but I think once you establish a style, you should stick with it. In Ill Manors everything felt rather random and arbitrary: a hotchpotch of visual ideas and devices, borrowed from many other films before (Pulp Fiction and Trainspotting, just to mention the most obvious ones), but all without any real reason. And the proof is in the pudding: the strongest and most interesting bits in the film are also the plainest and the ones where the director focused just on his actors (or actually non-actors apparently) to tell the story of a broken society alive and well right in the heart of London.

Despite the claims of realism, this bleak vision of Britain feels a bit contrived in places: lines like  “Can I try some crack?” the endless prostitution scenes and the final sequence in particular when a fire takes place in a pub, all feel a bit heavy-handed and wildly exaggerated. Also most of the characters are a little bit too stereotypical and the film seems to rely more on the charisma of our main lead, Riz Ahmed (from Four Lions), for the audience to sympathise with, instead of giving him a full fleshed-out and a much more believable persona.

In the end the amount of horror and depressing bleakness is just too much and what was already a fairly long film, with too many subplots, eventually just imploded. An exhausted audience during my screening even burst into laughing during the final climax (yes, it might have been a hysterical laugh, but still a laugh… and that’s just the wrong reaction to have for such film!). The points  Ill Manorswants to make are made quite earlier on and after a while it all becomes just too repetitious, over the top and indulgent. All this makes it loose its edge and diminishes its important message.

It is a brave film and certainly must be commended for trying: there are some very intense and good moments, which I am really praising, however, even though I might talk to people about Ill Manors, I don’t think I’ll ever reccomend anyone to watch it (aside for our prime ministers and politicians).


Sunday Times (June, 10th)

For all its gritty realism, Ill Manors has a streak of sentimental fantasy to it. It’s one thing to suggest that the char­acters aren’t all bad, and that they are capable of moral virtue(…) But when we see an uncaring thug risking his life to save a baby from a burning building, we have left the mean streets of London for the fantasy world of Hollywood. So much for keeping it real.  

The Dictator – Review


Director: Larry Charles. Cast: Sacha Baron CohenBen Kingsley.

Heralded by a strong marketing campaign that makes it sound as the most controversial movie since the last temptation of ChristThe Dictator is a strange hybrid. It is certainly not what the trailers makes it look like, nor is as innovative as Sacha Baron Cohen‘s best work (well… so to speak… I guess I’m referring to Borat, which is no masterpiece but at least it felt new at the time). I call this a strange hybrid because in trying to be both controversial and a crowd-pleaser, rude and cute, clever and silly, in the end might just dissatisfy pretty much everyone.

This time the documentary style from both Borat and Bruno has been abandoned in favour of a more straight forward and linear structure. But while there are undoubtedly some inspire puns and good ideas here and there (right from the start the mother dying in child-birth), the story (or rather lack of one) is so idiotic and pedestrian that leaves those few good jokes too exposed and definitely not enough to keep you engaged even if the overall length movie is pretty short.

Believe me, I’m all in favour of good satire and I’m certainly not one of those who claim we should not joke on delicate issued like racism, xenophobia, terrorism and Arab (or Western) stereotypes and preconceptions. If it’s done with a purpose and if it’s clever, it can be as sharp as a knife and quite effective. Sadly here, you can just see sporadic glimpses of what this film could have been, had it not fallen into the trappings of a thin love story. Four Lions tried it last year: it was not completely successful, but it was a noble attempt. Here, the satirical edge of the Dictator is too diluted among cheap slapstick and unnecessary interludes, extraneous to the central message (the masturbation sequence for example, rude for its own sake, was just cheap and unfunny in my book, just to mention one… Just being rude for the sake of being rude should really not be the purpose of such film. Leave that to Apatow).

The Dictator was so desperate to offend and be controversial that it forgot its main purpose: to be funny. In the end it just fell flat. This is certainly not Dr Strangelove, but it’s not South Park or Team America either. It’s just a collection of gags, some more successful than others; a sort of modern-day (and more polished and slick) Kentuky Fried Movie (and let’s not forget that even that one is NOT a good movie!).In theory there is nothing wrong comedies made up with a series of gags all stringed together by a silly story. Look at Airplane! But at least on that one the gag rate was so fast that all you did is laugh… here the laughs are too few.

At the end of the day, the proof is in the pudding: I was in a half-packed theatre surrounded by what I suppose must have been the core audience for this type of product (a 20-something crowd) and the silence that welcomed some of the supposedly funny jokes was deafening: a clear sign that I was not alone in feeling sorry for a film that is just not as clever as it thinks it is…


Click here for my review of FOUR LIONS

Four Lions – Review

Four Lions (2010)

Directed by Christopher Morris. Starring Kayvan NovakNigel LindsayRiz Ahmed

Chris Morris is probably not a very well-known figure outside of the UK. The English comedian, writer, actor and director is famous in his own country for his controversial radio programmes and television sketches.

Four Lions is his first feature film but it does suffer from that feeling of a made-for-TV type of product, both in its look, its format and its construction. It is essentially a series of sketches some of which are more successful than others, but as a whole it’s not as strong and coherent film as it wants to be.

Apparently it was originally rejected by both the BBC and Channel 4 as being too controversial, and you can easily see why. The plot tells of a group of inept suicide bombers and it’s clearly a subject anyone would normally stir well away from, especially in a comedy.

“Four Lions”  is undoubtedly provocative and certainly quite a brave film, unfortunately that doesn’t necessarily make it a good one and in the end you can’t help feeling a sense of superficiality to the whole thing: it is an honorable but failed attempt.

The main problem is to do with its comic depiction of his main characters  which veers not just toward the parody but the slapstick. This clownish approach makes it all a little bit too over simplistic and doesn’t ring quite true as it probably should.  It’s hard to believe that somebody like Omar, the main character (Rix Ahmed, the only actor worth watching in the whole film) would actually  decide to “work” or even just associate himself  with anyone so stupid like all those people in his group.

What Chris Morris is trying to do is to make the terrorists look like regular guys, likeable people and not just real monsters. However by treating them like silly idiots, it diminishes the message of the film and any emotional response  the audience could have towards them. So one side you have touching (and yet uncomfortable) scenes like the moment where Omar tells the story of  his version to the “Lion King” to his son. On the other hand you get moments which could be straight out a Mr Bean sketch, undermining everything he’s done before and, above all, our suspension of disbelief . These two “styles” don’t necessarily glue together as a film.

I didn’t find the comedy very funny at all (call me sad, but I don’t think I laughed once)  and because of these incongruous way of telling the story, nor I found the film as moving as it was probably trying to be.

On the technical side of things, it’s all done rather on cheap and it shows. There’s nothing remarkable about the photography, the music, or any of the technical aspect of the film, which makes me doubt whether this should have ever been a cinema experience at all.

Furthermore, the thick Sheffield accent and constant British references could even limit its worldwide appeal.

In the end it all comes across just as a brave but very superficial exercise and it’s a real shame because this could have been something quite different, almost life-changing.


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