Shifty (2008) – By Cary Conley

Shifty is a young man who has been dealing drugs for several years. But he’s about to get in over his head. A desperate addict is stalking him and his supplier is setting him up to take the fall over bogus claims that Shifty is cheating the boss out of money. His parents won’t talk to him and even his brother–who took him in when he was kicked out of the house–is pressuring him to go legit. Then out of the clear blue sky comes Chris, Shifty’s best buddy who disappeared one night four years ago without so much as a goodbye. Shifty has a number of emotions to deal with: first, there’s the guilt he has for letting his strict Muslim parents down; then there’s the loyalty he feels to his older brother; the disdain for his crack-addicted stalker; and finally, the mixed feelings he has about his old friend showing up unannounced, much as he left many years before.

Shifty and Chris immediately rekindle their friendship and Shifty allows Chris to tag along as he moves from one buyer to another. In rapid succession Chris witnesses a woman pushing 60 years of age who can’t even wait for the dealers to leave her apartment before lighting up and dropping out, Shifty bullying a young man and forcing his drugs on him, an addict attacking Shifty for a hit after Shifty denies him due to a previous debt. They are even chased by the police, Chris wondering aloud, "Why am I running?" Chris is surprised and disappointed at the turn of events in Shifty’s life and pressures him to give it all up and move back to Manchester with him for a fresh start. At first, Shifty resists, pulled both by loyalty to his brother and the lure of easy money and even easier work selling drugs. But as Shifty’s supplier begins to put the squeeze on him, events take a turn for the worse and the two friends end up having to hole up and defend themselves from the mobsters. Will they survive the night? If they do, will Shifty finally see the light and straighten up?

This is writer/director Eran Creevy’s debut film and it is a very strong first feature. Creevy’s writing is excellent. The characters he has created, helped along by some excellent actors including Riz Ahmed, Daniel Mays, and Jason Flemyng, are authentic and the emotions are raw. This is a gritty urban drama that explores the difficult relationships between both family and friends. Riz Ahmed is very good as the titular character, Shifty, a disenfranchised youth who chafes at his Muslim upbringing and longs to make big money and "be somebody". Daniel Mays stars as Shifty’s pal Chris who is haunted by a single mistake that took the life of an innocent girl four years ago–the reason he left town. And Jason Flemyng co-stars as Glen, Shifty’s supplier and all-around thug. Flemyng exudes sliminess as he plots to bring down Shifty, all the while cutting the cocaine himself and watching his girlfriend descend into addiction with a calculated coldness that is quite sinister.

Creevy also succeeds in creating a depressing, urban atmosphere that is at once both seedy as well as touching. After Shifty sells crack to an old woman, Chris announces, "It was like selling drugs to Miss Marple." While the viewer winces at the vision of the woman, clearly past her prime, desperately inhaling the smoke and leaning back onto the couch, eyes closed, addiction fed, we are simultaneously touched by the sensitive Chris who feels more than a little weird for witnessing the entire scene. And Shifty’s family isn’t the only one that Creevy examines. We also are witness to the descent into addiction of one middle-class family man who loses his job, his wife, his kids, and his home, ending up a junkie on the street before finally being killed for his debts. Creevy does not shy away from the realities of drug addiction and the damage it can do not only to the addict but to the people that surround the addict.

In the end, Shifty and Chris must prepare for all-out war with the drug lord, defending themselves for something they didn’t do–stealing drugs from the main man. If they can survive the night, maybe they can make their escape and start over fresh, best friends in a new town.

Shifty is an excellent thriller and most impressive as a debut film. Shifty will be released through Breaking Glass Pictures in late September. For more information, go to www.breakingglasspictures.com.