I tried to watch Ill Manors, Plan B's directorial debut inspired by the song of the same name, not long after it first came out but failed. It's the kind of film that requires real commitment. You have to be in the mood to sit through this harrowing, bleak multi-stranded crime story of contemporary, multi-cultural London.
Using a mix of professional and non-professional actors, Plan B aka Ben Drew has created something of real power and flair; gritty action set to his uncompromising, haunting lyrics and excellent, flowing cinematography from Gary Shaw. It's a drama of genuine despair which is all the more affecting because you know it is something of a reality, a way of life for many in a society which no longer offers up a community spirit or sense of identity beyond a singular selfish aggression and a preoccupation with mobile phones, binge drinking, drug use, easy sex and casual violence.
The individuals stories proceed like a domino effect of depravity, all seemingly riffing on the notion of saving face, male pride, ruthlessness and fear. Awestruck and naive pre-teen Jake (Ryan de la Cruz Indiana) is swept under the wing of local dealer Marcel (Nick Sagar) offering him the highs of the gangsta lifestyles as well as the harsh, sobering lows in the space of just one day. Meanwhile ageing drug dealer and ex-con Kirby (Keith Coggins) humiliates Marcel and is in turn is himself humiliated by his former protegé Chris (Lee Allen). Then there's hard nut Ed (Ed Skrein) who terrorises crack-addicted Michelle (Anouska Mond) into having sex with a string of fast food workers to pay back for the phone he believes she stole from him. Only his friend Aaron (Riz Ahmed) has the sense and morality top feel disgusted, decent attributes that mark him out as the exception in this urban jungle full of animals, especially when immigrant Katya (Natalie Press) abandons her baby in his care testing his character to the limit.
It's fair to say the Broken Britain crime genre has been rather overflowing in recent years, but Drew's debut stands apart in attempting to take a moral stance against the action he depicts as opposed to glorifying or being in thrall to criminality and the crime genre itself. It's clear that Drew believes that many of his characters are victims of their environment, consigned to the rubbish heap of life before they have even effectively lived it - and especially so in poor Jake's case. With its bleak 'no future' sentiment, it's a very punk piece in that respect and it's therefore no surprise to see the great punk performance poet John Cooper Clarke, the Bard of Salford, in a cameo role; reciting his poetry in a rough-house London boozer. It's just a shame, though perhaps hardly surprising for a novice film maker, that he doesn't manage to save the film from sinking occasionally into the melodrama of soap operatics.
Coming in the year that gave us the Olympics and the Jubilee, events that managed to whip the nation into a frenzy of jingoistic pride, Drew reminds us, like the spectre at the feast, that it was only a year earlier that our streets were looted, ravaged and burned in the 2011 riots that started in London following the shooting of Mark Duggan and swept across the nation literally like wildfire.