Director: Ben Drew (Plan B)
Starring: Riz Ahmed, Natalie Press, Mem Ferda, Danielle Brent
Running Time: 121 minutes
Release Date: June 8th
Although making his debut as a feature director, Ben Drew (aka Plan B) has brought something fascinating and fearful to the screen. Ill Manors drives home the relentless ‘reality’ of what it truly means to live as part of the all too often glamorised urban gang culture. The film wraps its swirling, episodic narrative around Aaron (Riz Ahmed – Four Lions) as he tackles the tedium of drug dealing with his rough companion Ed (Ed Skrein, delivering a somewhat confused Tom Hardy impersonation). Simultaneously, Aaron’s sleazy supplier Kirby moves from being humiliated by his former apprentice to assaulting and stripping petty estate dealer Marcel, who in turn exports his vengeance onto teenage gang initiate Jake. Between the misplaced masculinity is the abused and crack-addled prostitute Michelle, adrift between addiction and salvation.
The thematic enormity of Ill Manors rides on the back of the brief, but burning, dystopian image of the London riots. It crashes through non-linear, episodic narrative arcs that weave together a humiliating and lonely image of what it is to be caught in this vortex of crime, alienation, addiction, faux-loyalty and violence. With a not too subtle nod to Pulp Fiction’s multi-linear style, Drew hangs a mood around his protagonist Aaron similar to that of Scorsese’s Travis Bickle – a lone individual who is tortured by a sense of personal morality in the face of collective immorality. Riz Ahmed portrays an anti-hero silenced by his cultural context, though his performance is so subtle that it may be misconstrued as one of confused despair.
Certainly, there is almost no escape for the audience from the relentless ferocity of this film’s antagonistic style. The cinematography blends fast cuts and contemplative panning with a fresh injection of social-media inspired camera work. A particularly poignant example being a scene wherein Jake beats up his friend for £20 of weed, captured in a juxtaposition of furious break-aways and amateur camera-phone pixelations. However, after 90 minutes of such thematic and visceral intensity, there is a feeling that this entire culture is circling the drain.
There have been far too many predecessors to this film that have only offered a glimpse of an ethical or moral landscape inside their final 15 minutes. The result tends to glorify the misgivings of the gruesome anti-heroes contained therein. Ben Drew’s Ill Manors contains a self-perpetuating tone of crushing realism that allows for a continual sense of morality within the viewer. Instead of glorifying the cruel aspects of gang culture through cheesy montage, the film uses this technique to fill in characteristic blanks with motivation and somewhat overly-didactic lyrics. While magnetic and brilliant, Ill Manors leaves the screen with unintentional ambiguity. There are no solutions to this narrative of overt-pride and hidden anxiety. There is, however, a lot to be said about the burgeoning talent of Ben Drew.