Director: Ben Drew
Screenplay: Ben Drew
Starring: Riz Ahmed, Ed Skrein and Natalie Press
Ben Drew A.K.A Plan B is a fascinating U.K creative talent. I first heard of him on a Hip Hop Connection (Defunct in print, now online magazine) mix CD with a storytelling rap song "mama was a crackhead". A decent hip hop track, a few years later, I picked up his first and second album. The latter had as young Drew changed from more underground hip hop to a more popular modern RnB Soul sound.
The album was a hit, but also came with its own problems. Drew's new mainstream sound comes at odds with the imagery observed in his lyrics and his own persona. It's no surprise that when ill Manors appeared on radars, I read the sniping and sneering at the very notion that a Plan B film would be any good. At no point does it help the fact that ill manors comes at a time when Brits have been fed urban youth dramas ad nauseum. The cycle starting with the likes of Kidulthood.
Annoyingly, I get the feeling that due to Drew not being taken seriously as an film maker, many will easily dismiss a deeply ambitious début feature. The film is in no way perfect, however many scenes provide provocation, that lesser movies of its ilk could only wish for. Compare this to the deeply annoying Harry Brown (which also starred Drew) and this, to this blogger, is the stronger film.
For me, one of the reasons why this worked is that ill manors is not aiming for pure shock or middle class manipulation although the film often tries hard to provoke. The acts shown are despicable ill Manors clearly wishes to illustrate the same type of alienation that lies in the likes of La Haine (1995) or Taxi Driver (1976). The latter is referenced at least three times within the film.
Ill Manors shows its isolated characters in the same way as Kidulthood (2006). Any strong adult role models are replaced by near absent social workers, drug dealers and hotheaded gangsters. It's younger generation; are living and dying in a perpetual circle of violence and nihilism, suffering from the pain lived from their elders past. Fractured; much like Short Cuts (1993) or Pulp Fiction (1994), its narrative and character motivations are scattershot and unclear. Often a death knell for many movies, this only seems to stir the boiling pot for the movie. With morals and actions swivel on a sixpence.
Drew then bolsters the film visually with an array of different techniques. Home video appears to represent flashback, low-res mobile phone video to illustrate the immediacy of "happy slapping". Timelapsing rears it's head at night as transitions to pass long periods of time ultra fast. Drew pulls many rabbits out of hats. Often; such aspects are a sign of a young first timer doing too much too soon. However, the film is deceptively more assured than one would expect. Wearing it's influences and homages on its sleeve. In addition to this, the film is also part musical with the movies soundtrack narrating events and backstory as and when needed.
There's a lot to take in, and not all of it works. Its fragmented style lends us characters who are not as interesting as you may like, portrayed by little known actors who don't all nail their scenes. Such is the hopelessness of the world, that at over 2 hours of all this gets a little tiresome as the plot becomes more convoluted, searching for reasons for characters to intermingle. Drew does well to pull all of these strings but by the time some of the later characters enter the scene, it becomes to grim for it's own good. It doesn't help that Drew's work as a Rap artist becomes more prevalent within the feature itself. Often the music playing over a sequence paints a picture which is sometimes more vivid than what we are seeing.
This doesn't distract from the fact that ill Manor's is one of the most ambitious entries of films of it's ilk. With Drew showing hints that he is far more interested in the fact that the films despicable acts happen in the first place. The visual of firearms being thrown into the Thames in clear sight of the O2 arena is a challenging one. Released a month before the 2012 Olympic games and a year after the riots that shocked much of Britain. It reminds us just how ugly things can be under the surface.