Some may argue that the
London gangster flick is getting a little tired. I’ll argue that it’s not when the film-makers deliver a fresh and original take on the genre. Ben Drewe AKA Plan B takes a good crack at doing just that.
Ill Manors tells the interweaving tales of a group of dealers, addicts, prostitutes and their johns. Set on the mean streets of
East London against a backdrop of Olympic regeneration. It’s an ensemble piece but the lead, if there is one, is Aaron (Riz Ahmed) - one of the few in the film who actually has a conscience. He tries to do the right thing within a series of bad situations. The film is crammed with ugly scenarios containing much realistic violence. The scenarios played out reek of authenticity and were undoubtedly inspired by real life events, thus making them all the more sinister and even made me feel a little uncomfortable about living in the same city. It shows the vicious cycle that violence, for example, begets violence.
There is a mixture of professional and non-professional actors and it works. I believe the non-actors raise their game due to acting opposite pros, and their authenticity rubs off on the actors. Although visually he stays well behind the camera, audio-wise Ben Drewe is at the forefront. As “Narrator” he tells the story. Or rather raps it. This edges the film into the brilliantly unsettling realms of fairytale. (Albeit a dark and twisted fairytale set in contemporary
East London.) It’s an odd dichotomy though because, essentially, the film stays firmly rooted in reality. The musical narration is the strongest part of the film for me. It’s a bold idea and works brilliantly. In the musical interludes Plan B packs in exposition and back story to the characters. It could have gone so wrong too. Whether you like his vocals or not you can’t deny that it works as an effective narrative device. Not only does it maintain the film’s street credentials it adds to them. Eschewing too much visual flourish, Drewe occasionally employs the decidedly lo-fi option of phone footage. It’s a device that works and is wholly relevant as gang members film parties just as casually as they film violence.
It’s a little lop-sided. The first half of the film packs in swathes of action and information but then the tempo is slowed right down. The musical narration disappears in the second half. As a result it degenerates into something more conventional and unfortunately a little less interesting. Still, there are shocks aplenty that equally comment on (as quoted), “David Cameron’s Broken Britain” as well as providing visceral thrills.