out of Five
Running time: 116
Impressive filmmaking debut from Ben Drew with a strong script, striking direction, skilful editing, a cracking soundtrack and superb performances from a fine ensemble cast, though it's also relentlessly downbeat and the material feels a little over-familiar at times.
What's it all about?
Directed by Ben Drew (aka Plan B), Ill Manors is set in present-day London and explores the lives of various characters caught up in the world of drugs, gangs, prostitution and violence. Riz Ahmed stars as Aaron, a low level dealer who tracks his thuggish best friend Ed's (Ed Skrein) stolen phone to crack addict Michelle (Anouska Mond) and is then horrified when Ed makes her prostitute herself in order to pay him back.
Later, things get worse for Aaron when he is left with an abandoned baby after the terrified mother, Katya (Natalie Press), leaves it on the train; after trying hard to find her, he eventually allows Ed to sell the baby to the couple who run the local pub (Jo Hartley and Lee Whitlock). Meanwhile, young Jake (Ryan de la Cruz Indianda) falls in with gang leader Marcel (Nick Sagar), and is forced to prove himself by shooting rival dealer Kirby (Keef Coggins), but his actions have terrible consequences.
The ensemble cast are excellent, particularly Riz Ahmed, who's essentially the lead character (he's the only character on the poster) and Indianda, whose performance (and indeed storyline) wouldn't be out of place in HBO's The Wire. The script is suitably gritty and Drew soundtracks the film to within an inch of its life, with individual rap tracks laying out each of the character's back-stories as they're introduced; this works brilliantly early on, but wears out its welcome a little by the end, since the style of each track is the same.
Drew directs with rhythm and pace, aided by some terrific tricksy editing that plays around with the chronology of the film to powerful effect. He also creates a strong sense of place and generates palpable suspense in a number of different sequences.
The main problem with the film is that the plot frequently feels either overly familiar or deliberately attempting to shock in a way that doesn't ring true (one sincerely hopes the chicken shop prostitution thing isn't taken from real life). Similarly, the oppressively downbeat atmosphere eventually takes its toll over the near two hour running time and the film could have used a little more in the way of humour.
Impressively directed and superbly acted, Ill Manors is an assured directorial debut from Ben Drew that marks him out as a talent to watch. Worth seeing.