Ill Manors, 2012.
Written and Directed by Ben Drew.
Starring Riz Ahmed, Ed Skrein, Natalie Press, Mem Ferda and Anouska Mond.
As a war rages between rival drug dealers and the police, eight characters struggle for survival amid the cycle of violence.
I am going to begin this review by saying Plan B should stick to rapping, not filmmaking. This film was absolutely atrocious, and entirely implausible.
Despite hearing good things about Ill Manors on the radio, Ben Drew, AKA Plan B’s directorial debut fell flat on its face, at least for me. A blatant rip off of the Kidulthood / Adulthood movies for starters, Ill Manors is just a bad imitation. It’s is the equivalent of Spanish Ray Bans.
Immediately with the opening scenes of the film, I’m put off by Drew’s slightly overbearing, pompous voiceover in which he declares himself the narrator and proceeds to do exactly no narration whatsoever. His purpose is never fully revealed. He interrupts the onscreen violence on occasion to give a rap about a character during a montage, one of which I am one hundred per cent sure is his new single, and then disappears for a bit. Having released a song / album of the same name as the movie, I’m led to the conclusion that Ben Drew basically decided to kill two birds with one stone and make a movie to accompany his album, or vice versa. I actually have no qualms with Plan B’s music. That one about the bloke who had sex with an underaged girl (with unnecessarily graphic detail) is a belter. It’s a shame Drew didn’t put as much effort into this film as he does his music.
The characters are two-dimensional, and there are so many of them it’s hard to keep up with a plot which flickers its focus throughout until I wasn’t sure exactly what was happening. There’s no real catalyst within it, or indeed, any overarching storyline. He has tried to cram so much into one feature. Realistically, each of the individual characters’ stories could easily be expanded into three or four features, or a serialisation, and still be comfortable whilst giving much more maneuverability for character and plot development, which Ill Manors sorely lacks.
I am also not entirely which characters I am supposed to like and which ones are the villains. They’re all highly unlikable as it is. However, I did manage to form some allegiances. My favourites, and the ones I feel with any real depth to them were the two main females in the ensemble, Katya and Michelle (you may have heard something of Michelle’s crack-ridden, abused-as-a-child story on Radio 1 recently), both prostitutes in desperate situations. Both are forced into the role of background sex object… It appears that Ben Drew doesn’t much like women in positions of power. The resounding victory of the whole film, the one we’re not supposed to think is the best bit, for me, is when Michelle smacks a pimp over the head with a brick, and escapes a brothel with Katya in tow.
Meanwhile, the strong male leads of the film are shooting and shanking each other. Needless violence everywhere, and some sex scenes that have been put in for the sole reason of shock value and possibly to attract a wider audience (twelve year old boys and fifty year old men). Other slightly redeemable characters include Aaron, who shows sympathy and kindness towards both Katya and Michelle, and Ed. Ed is an interesting one because although he starts out as a villain, and is clearly meant to be from his story arc, his moments before his death are heroic ones, which leaves the audience confused as to how to feel about him in the final scenes of the film. Perhaps this is Drew trying to show us the lack of distinct boundaries between good and bad in the criminal underbelly of South London; or he just doesn’t know what he wants from his characters. Jake, another character, is supposed to be a victim child caught in the wrong place at the wrong time and forced into a gang. But his characterisation just doesn’t hit the mark.
Beyond this, the whole plot is highly unrealistic. Perhaps gang warfare really is this violent and bloody, I wouldn’t know. What gets me though is the absolute lack of consequences displayed in the entire film. Ed gets arrested at one point and is immediately released without explanation. Katya is an illegal immigrant with no place to stay and a newborn baby, and for some reason visiting social services is the resolution to her problems. Everyone is killing everyone and the police are nowhere in sight. Ed and Aaron sell Katya’s baby to a pub landlord for £8000. No one even bats an eyelid. It’s just bizarre.
Either way, the thing was off-key, and poorly conceived, constructed and executed. It’s a shame that a half-decent cast (as in, half of them were decent, and the other half were horrendous) fell prey to a bad story and a bad director.
Flickering Myth Rating - Film ★ / Movie ★