British films… ahhhhh, British films. Specifically, British films post Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels. Gritty, intelligent (well, sometimes), realistic and brutal. Nick Love does it well – he’s directed Goodbye Charlie Bright, Outlaw, The Football Factory and The Business. All of which have one thing in common… Danny Dyer. He’s kind of like a Cockney geezer, almost a young Ray Winstone without the threatening demeanour.
Don’t get me wrong, he’s a decent enough actor to watch, if you’re after a cockney geezer, and he really does put his all into his character. Sadly, in City Rats, he’s not directed (or scripted) by anyone as good as Nick Love is at doing what Nick Love does.
Instead, he’s in a film where scenes seem to have been thrown together by chance as we explore four separate, depressing storylines in which the characters all come from different parts of London yet, for no real reason in the story, know each other.
So, who do we have in our gathering? Well, we’ve got eight key characters – Jim and Sammy are both trying to commit suicide, Gina is a hooker and Dean wants to get to know her better, Pete the ex-con burger cook and Carol the mother of his dead friend, and, finally, we’ve got Olly the Hedonist and Chris the deaf, autistic and mute brother.
Jim can’t bring himself to jump off a building, instead choosing to drop melons. He’s having a telephone relationship with Gina insofar as he confides all his problems in her. His life changes when he sees Sammy preparing to throw herself from another building. From this starting point, they begin talking and walking around London (I guess all the coffee shops and bars are shut in the middle of the day). It turns out that things turned bad for Sammy when her ex-boyfriend, Dean, cheated on her. They decide to pay him a visit, just so that Sammy can talk.
Meanwhile, Gina is plying her trade as the whore next door and acting as a muse for her neighbour, who just so happens to be the aforementioned Dean, who is obsessed with her and wants to get to know her better, for artistic reasons. Dean is convinced there’s something deeper to Gina and she seems to enjoy talking to somebody who isn’t paying for her services.
Pete, ex-con and now a burger van cook, is asked by Carol, the mother of a friend, to find his former friend. So, he gets a gun out of his fridge, obviously, to help Carol and heads off to his old stomping ground to track down Carl. Carl, unfortunately, was a drug addict who ran foul of a local dealer called Marco, ending up buried, in a suitcase. Carol and Pete, whilst exhuming the body, share their pasts and discover that they’ve got more in common than you’d think. There’s a story of loss and redemption which only really becomes poignant towards the end of their thread.
Olly clearly has better things to do than look after his mute and deaf brother, Chris, manages to lose him in Trafalgar Square and then discovers that his brother is hiding a secret from him about his sexuality. How does Olly deal with this, I hear you ask? He goes and finds him a rentboy. Of course, Olly has a change of heart half way through. It turns out Olly has secrets of his own and he’s not nearly as comfortable as Chris. Thankfully, we’re led on a really quite bizarre chase around a gay street, ending up at a party (or a disco, it’s hard to say which) before ending up at the home of a guy who Olly knows.
The film is starkly shot, probably to show how grim and gritty the whole affair is and there’s some interesting camera work, particularly in Jim’s storyline (and even more so when it’s raining melons.) Any creativity in the camera work is hampered by clichéd and lazy direction – lots of cuts and long, drawn out shots to accompanying music and staring into the distance from the cast.
Sadly, it’s got a script where characters, particularly Dyer’s, sound pretentious more often than they sound meaningful. Despite this, Dyer’s section is actually the most interesting in the film, possibly because it walks a well trodden path of friendship, loss, violence and darkness. Carol, played ably by Natasha Williams, has little to say, but when she does speak she is totally believable as the imperfect mother of a lost son.
Kenny Doughty, as Olly, has the thankless task of carrying an excruciatingly bad storyline and totally disengaging storyline, whilst Tamer Hussan, as Jim, and Myanna Buring, as Sammy, tell more in what’s not said than what actually is. Gina, played by Susan Lynch, and Dean (Ray Panthaki) do the best that they can with a story that should have been tense and emotional but just ends up falling flat.
The script is full of anger and ranting, but the rage is largely impotent. Characters argue, people have sex, lives are broken, but there’s no real purpose to anything that goes on. “Impotence is bliss” one of the characters scrawls on a wall… in the case of this script, that seems to be true. As I said earlier, the script just feels thrown together, almost like it could have been a TV miniseries but suddenly the screen writer was told “The six parter is out, we’ve got 90 minutes to do it in.”
Don’t get me wrong, it isn’t a terrible film. There are far worse films in the world, but it just suffers through its grim and gritty 1 hour 34 minute runtime.
Extras on the DVD include a 40-minute ‘Making Of’ introduced by the scriptwriter which actually does do a decent job of explaining the whole process and each of the storylines. It’s interesting, also, to hear the crew talking about the filming process. Actors are interviewed and speak in uncensored terms about their experiences, though there are far too many people saying how wonderful everything is and how amazing everyone was. Disappointingly, it’s left to this documentary to explain much of the backstory and nature of the characters that was left ambiguous (or perhaps I just missed it) in the main film.
Fifteen deleted scenes are also included on the DVD. Some are alternate or extended takes of scenes already included (Carol’s ending in the film works better than the alternate), others add some depth to the story and the rest are just pointless (why does Olly scold himself?).
I do think that Britain makes good films – look at This Is Britain, Son Of Rambow and many others as examples – but this isn’t even close. It’s a good first effort for the scriptwriter and, had it been longer, it could have expanded on the few interesting moments.
Definitely one to rent, I’m afraid.
City Rats is out now.