Sunday, 26 January 2014
I've had Shifty on my 'To Watch' pile for some time now. To give you an indication as to how long, it's been on the TV twice *I think* since I first recorded it. Whoops.
What took me so long?
Ostensibly, this is a 'Broken Britain' film (is it just me who feels a bit cynical towards that phrase? I was born in 1979, I don't think I've ever seen Britain 'fixed') but it is one that has grown out of the cringey and all too earnest dour adolescence of the likes of Kidulthood and is thankfully a mature and rewarding production. It's shot on a shoestring budget of £100k with a shoot of just eighteen days I believe, though there's not a single frame to show that truth up.
It helps of course that the principal leads are played by two of the most vibrant and exciting young British actors currently around, Riz Ahmed as the titular Shifty and Daniel Mays as his estranged mate Chris. Chris returns to his old stomping ground, having left under something of a cloud four years ago. He finds his old schoolfriend Shifty, the brightest boy in their class, has in that time become more and more immersed in dealing drugs on the local estates, much to his dismay. Both actors portray a friendship which, though the plot requires it to occasionally be an uneasy one, the chemistry between the two actors remains easygoing and convincing throughout, making their characters disagreements all the more palpable. I must admit of the two, I am perhaps more familiar with Mays so principally watched Shifty for him, but it was Ahmed who really impressed and held the attention, possessing as he does the kind of assured intensity that the character requires, flitting from charm to a steely toughness in a manner not too dissimilar to that other great actor Mark Strong - who writer/director Eran Creevy would go on to work with on his follow up feature Welcome To The Punch.
I also really liked the film's score by Molly Nyman and Harry Escott because to be honest it was a relief not to hear the now cliched and expected wall of Dizzy Rascal blasting out over every other scene. Instead we were treated to the kind of score one would normally hear in Mike Leigh films.
Convincing, well made and with a real friendship at its big heart, Shifty doesn't rely on the usual tropes and trappings of British gangland mockney nonsense, the likes of which have sustained a glut of films ever since the dismally overrated Lock Stock, and as such stands out head and shoulders above most offerings.