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Blood Thick as Thieves

Kingsway Films

Anti-Social (2015)

You know how when someone means well; and his or her heart is in the right place; but he or she just doesn’t quite get it, right? “Anti-Social” is that, in film form. It wants to be a commentary on the fine line between legal and illegal ways of making a living and ends up being a budget fantasia about both. It doesn’t quite succeed, but it’s a film that’s impossible to hate.

Dee (Gregg Sulkin) is an up-and-coming graffiti artist whose talents get him poached into the legitimate art world, which gets him an American model girlfriend, Kirsten (Meghan Markle). But he’s still financially supported by his older half-brother, Marcus (Josh Myers), the leader of a gang of boyhood-friends-turned-criminals including Nicky (James Devlin), Jason (Andrew Shim, by far the best thing about the film) and Dominic (Richie Campbell). Dominic’s dalliance with a woman (Caroline Ford) who may or may not belong to a rival gang run by Leon (Skepta, one of the grime artists Kanye West brought on stage at the Brits, and who naturally contributed to the soundtrack) leads his friends to the biggest score of their careers. But it also gets everyone — Kirsten and Dee included — in over their heads.

Writer-director Reg Traviss studied some of the more notorious recent London jewelry store robberies (although unluckily for him, not the recent Hatton Garden one) and reimagines them for the movie. The trouble is that the concomitant outdoor scenes were not filmed in London (Malta stood in). It’s a juddering shock to have characters go from flirting in the deodorant aisle of a Hackney Superdrug to riding on motorbikes in a clearly different city. This lack of vérité comes across in ways both hilarious (Brick Lane underground station, anyone?) and gratingly amateurish (the club shootout in which no one needs to reload).

It’s the crime sequences which save the film. The different ways in which Marcus and his crew knock over London’s high-end jewellery stores are filmed with panache; the pacing is brilliant; and in these parts the thinness of the budget doesn’t show. If Mr. Traviss had made Marcus the main character, the movie would have been sharper, if not smarter. It also would have given Marcus’s partner, Emma (Sophie Colquhoun), and mother, Nadine (Maria Fernandez Ache), something to do. Dee tells Kirsten that Marcus’s late father was a famous criminal and strongly implies Nadine survives off a no-strings-attached pension allocated by his former associates. Now there’s a movie we haven’t seen before! Emma, meanwhile, is the sacrificial lamb, along with her friend Tara (Sasha Frost) — although the sequence where the sacrifice takes place is handled as tactfully as it could have been — and the movie wastes a further opportunity in not showing why she and Marcus are such a solid couple in spite of his violent, dangerous lifestyle.

It feels mean-spirited to hold an “EastEnders”-level of realism against a movie which tries so hard, but it’s an undeniable problem. The contrast between the careless international art dealers of Dee’s new world and the hard-grifting, well-mannered jewel thieves works, although it could have been less heavy-handed. The movie’s success will be based on its depictions of working-class East London, where someone can’t get shot in a cornershop without being recognized. “Anti-Social” is also very sharp in its understanding that class, not race, is the most crucial issue in Britain; privilege here has a different twist to the American one more usually seen on screen.


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