Danny (Stephen Graham) and Joseph (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) are a genuinely odd couple. Joseph is a very large, very strong guy who suffers from mental retardation. It’s the kind of retardation where you don’t get enough oxygen when you’re born, so you end up pretty normal, but limited to a rather child-like emotional state and level of intelligence. Danny is sort of your typical street scumbag floating around the edges of organized crime, which never turns out well. He takes care of Joseph and genuinely cares for him like family. There’s just one problem. He owes a local mobster a whole lot of money, and this mobster wants Joseph to fight for him in underground, illegal cage fights in order to pay off that debt. At first Danny is hesitant, but eventually he’s in so deep that he either has to convince Joseph to fight, or they’re going to kill him, and make Joseph fight anyway. For his part, all Joseph wants in the world is to have his own caravan (a British term for a small RV). At least, that’s all he wanted until he met Isabel (Maxine Peake), another retarded girl with the same type of retardation who was being bullied by some local teens. Quickly they fell in love and her parents were all for the relationship, but will Danny’s various problems both personal and his problems with the mob keep them apart, and will anything come of Danny’s own romance with a local prostitute? You’ll have to watch the film to find out.
This film, for me, was a perfect example of complete and utter duality in a script. What do I mean by that? Well essentially, this film is two almost completely separate stories merged into one film. First we have Danny and Joseph and Danny’s indebtedness to the mob and the whole cage fighting aspect of the film. Then on the other side, we have Danny’s relationship with Joseph, Joseph finding love with Isabel, and Danny finding love with Lisa (Emma Stansfield). Both aspects of the film worked quite well on their own, but after all was said and done, I think the whole mob side of the story really sort of felt like an also ran compared to how much focus was placed on the other aspects of the film.
Before I go any farther, I do have to talk about the acting in this film, because it was just absolutely phenomenal. I had never even heard of Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje before, but watching him in this film pay the role of a mentally retarded adult so flawlessly, I have no doubt you’ll be hearing more about him in the future. There really aren’t words to express how well he played his role. Films like this never see much in the line of awards, but his performance was utterly worthy of one. Maxnie Peake as Isabel also did an amazing job at playing her character. Honestly, if you saw these people together out in the world, in character, you’d never even for the slightest moment suspect that they were anything but what they appeared to be. They were just that flawless. Danny’s character on the other hand…
While Stephen Graham was also stellar in his portrayal of Danny, that character was really all over the place as it was written. You really want to like the character, but he spends half the film drinking, smoking weed or snorting coke. He also lies to Joseph quite often, and is just a generally unlikeable character. Then on the flip side of that, he actually loves Joseph and has gone way out of his way to take care of him and protect him from the mob and the world in general. Even when it meant getting beaten almost to death, he stayed true to his friend. So sometimes he’s lying to him, sometimes he’s screwing him over, but he’s always trying to protect him. This makes the character very confusing and complex and I’m really not sure what to do with it or how to feel about it. I thought Stephen Graham handled the role quite well and found that proper balance in both the positive and negative aspects of the character. He even managed to pull off falling in love and showing the beginnings of changing as a person in a way that made you pull for him at the end.
The story itself, as I said above, had a real duality about it, but in the end, it all managed to work together without the various aspects of the story fighting each other. They managed to co-exist and to even blend together at various times in a way that worked quite well. One side of the story had more grit and violence, while the other had romance and character exploration. If the film had focused purely on the grit and violence aspects, this would have become a very shallow, one dimensional and forgettable film. If it had focused purely on the romance and character exploration, it would have been quite a good film, but likely would have become boring over the course of its running time. The duality of the story is actually what makes it work, and what makes it worth seeing.
I really didn’t have high hopes for this film when I first received it. It didn’t sound like something I’d particularly enjoy, but I have to tell you, I was wrong. This turned out to be a really excellent film, and definitely worth your time to check it out. This release is from Well Go USA, who have consistently impressed me with the quality of their releases, and this one is no exception. There is one complaint I do have though. Well Go USA releases a TON of Asian films, which I love, but this is the second British film I’ve reviewed from them, and neither one has had subtitles. In the first film it wasn’t a horrible problem, but this film had some really thick British accents. The kind that are especially hard to understand when people talk quietly or mumble. I know for a fact I missed quite a few bits of dialog in this film because of it. Subtitles would have aided this release tremendously. There aren’t any special features on this disc, which is fine, but it really would have been well served if subtitles had been added. Regardless of that, make it a point to see this film, if for no other reason than the amazing performances.
If you’d like to find out more about this film, or to get a copy for yourself, you can check out its page on the Well Go USA website here, or pick yourself up a copy of the blu-ray+DVD combo pack, or the DVD from Amazon.