Monday, 27 April 2015

Summer (2008)

Summer sees two veterans of Ken Loach films, Robert Carlyle and Steve Evets team up to play lifelong friends Shaun and Daz in a deeply heartfelt, sombre drama set in Nottingham.

Once the town bad boys, we witness their friendship through three time periods; their innocent childhood riding around on bikes and getting into scrapes - some minor some major, their adolescence when love and alcohol enter into the mix and Shaun's turmoil at school with seemingly undiagnosed dyslexia and uncaring teachers is alleviated by his feelings for local lass Katy (as a teen played by Joanna Tulaj, and as an adult, Racheal Blake) and lastly their approaching middle age which sees Shaun serve as carer to the now wheelchair bound and alcoholic Daz, whose days are numbered due to terminal cirrhosis. 

Director Kenny Glanaan, working from a screenplay by Hugh Ellis, delivers a tale of regret and empty lives thanks to missed or completely, purposefully ignored opportunities in a simple yet utterly authentic and honest way. It's a great study in friendship and loyalty, guilt and responsibility that is thankfully subtly done rather than depicted in such a way as to beat the viewer of the head with. The key to the story is of course threaded through the three timelines, which appear on occasion almost like ghosts to the middle aged and suitably haunted looking Shaun. These interwoven strands come together hazily and lazily like the summer itself in an especially effective manner which explores the reason for the strong bond that unites the central pair, and just why Shaun is so devoted to his friend - a  reason that remains compellingly hidden to the audience until the very end. This is a bold and leisurely move that benefits the narrative and the structure of the piece extremely well, allowing us to explore first and foremost the relationships between the characters, helping us get to know them - which is important, and drawing out their three dimensional nature as a result.

Summer explores the gritty side of life and benefits from the extremely naturalistic performances of its cast (including an extremely good performance from Carlyle which he himself claims he is very proud, and rightly so) acting just as one would expect such characters to do in the real world. This is especially true in how the film depicts 'the sins of the father' trope; Evets' son, played by Michael Socha, is clearly going off the rails just as he had once done thanks to the booze yet the film refuses to use this opportunity to serve as propaganda or show him through the narrative the error of his ways. Mistakes are made in reality and Summer is clearly intent to simply record reality as close as possible. As a result there's no pandering to the sentimental or the schmaltzy, no sweet cinematic reconciliation or Hollywood style manipulative tugs at the heart strings. Yes this is a film which features disability and alcoholism, but it does so in an authentic matter of fact manner in keeping with film makers like the aforementioned Ken Loach or Shane Meadows, who as a native Midlander is of course no stranger to setting films in this part of the world.

If I have any minor gripes about Summer it is that the actors playing the young Shaun and Daz (Sean Kelly and Joe Doherty) great though they are, are too dissimilar to Carlyle and Evets and that on occasion there are some sloppy moments that take you out of the action; for example, we see one scene play out in real time which has Carlyle ask a receptionist if he can see Katy, who is now a successful solicitor. The receptionist goes off to check and seems to have Carlyle's full name and reason for attending that day, despite never having asked him. But these are minor gripes in what is an otherwise interesting low budget film, the kind that I'd like to see Carlyle do more of nowadays because its the best I've seen him for some time and clearly where his heart really lies.

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