Saturday, 13 October 2012

LFF: Wasteland Review

Director/Writer: Rowan Athale

Starring: Luke Treadaway, Iwan Rheon, Matthew Lewis, Gerard Kearns, Vanessa Kirby, Timothy Spall, Neil Maskell, Paul Clayton

Plot: After Harvey (Treadaway) returns from a year in the slammer, he starts plotting revenge against the bastard that set him up and got him imprisoned – local psychopath, Steven Roper (Maskell). Getting the help of his friends, they plan a heist that will leave Roper with nothing left in the bank and allow them a clean and tidy getaway abroad...or so they hope.

Bringing the glitz and glamour of Hollywood to British films is never an easy task. It worked for Hot Fuzz and, to a degree, Snatch, but British film is based mostly around the tried and tested models of period pictures, kitchen-sink dramas and comedies with a notable British voice. Rowan Athale’s attempt is, at times, clumsy and jarring yet it can be forgiven for the sheer bravado of what he’s trying to pull off. Athale has deemed Wasteland “a British Ocean’s Eleven” which, let’s be fair, it cannot be (Soderbergh’s film has been copied a few times since – the most conspicuous effort being Confidence – and it always reminds us as to how slick the 2001 all-star caper was) yet it maintains the crisp dialogue and sharp quality that the first Ocean’s film had.

The unique idea of placing recognisable characters from council estate-based films into a genre piece that contains an intricate plot, twists/red-herrings and a run-of-the-mill reveal is, like the pay-off at the end of a heist caper, an extraordinary feat. The scale of Wasteland is not substantial in any regard yet it can, in moments, evolve beyond its limits. At points the screen wipes that accompany the montage of planning seems tawdry but it also feels fun. It isn’t totally unbelievable that a job like Harvey’s could be executed, nor is it far-fetched to understand the motivation – it sometimes wanders into territory it could get lost in but then thankfully turns back towards the workable setting.

Blending the gritty crime story that foregrounds Kill List’s Neil Maskell as the crook, and the heist thriller with the motley crew of some of Britain’s brightest new actors, manages to steer the film far away from the family genre. It is something to be enjoyed by people aged 15 – 40 (which is still a healthy demographic) and taken slightly more seriously that Clooney and co’s escapades. The script is penned in the style of sombre Shane Meadows and jokey Guy Ritchie yet adds a few diverse touches to the form of noughties Brit-flicks. The actors embellish the dialogue with low-key acting that keeps the film grounded to another degree; afraid of becoming a failed replica of the heist-genre, the tone has been meticulously fine-tuned.  

With no fixed way to depict the events of a heist film, and in order to smartly show the heist in full, Athale has chosen a structure that drifts back and forth from the interrogation of Harvey, bloody and beaten, and the story of how he ended up in the police station. Athale takes care not to make too many cuts from past to present, keeping the momentum at a steady pace whenever possible. Waiting for the inevitable “reveal” does undermine some of the drama and tension but it’s nothing that could be helped with the formula as it is.

Without outstretching its reach, Wasteland enjoyably creates a U.K crime caper adequately similar Ocean’s Eleven, Bandits and The Bank Job. It’s a shame about the title though; it has little pertinence and could drive people away from what they may think is a gloomy hard-boiled drama.

By Piers McCarthy. Also posted on LiveForFilms

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