Broken Britain Chopped and screwed.
Ben Drew aka Plan B, the successful British Rapper and musician offers his debut feature, Ill Manors. Written and soundtracked by the 28 year old East Londoner, the 2hr piece comes across like an extended music video to begin with but settles into a terrifyingly grim and violent drama set in Drew’s home ‘estate’ of Forest Gate. It follows 6 diverging stories that rely much on coincidences to give the film its overall depth, as most of the plot devices are hinged on finding something by its characters of drug dealers and prostitutes; a lost phone, a stolen gun, an abondoned baby and its mother. Imagine the structure of Pulp Fiction with the emotional intelligence of East Enders, add a dash of Taxi driver‘s “Are you talking to me” and stir it with the last 5 years of a chopped and screwed ‘estate culture’ and you’ve got something close to Ill Manors. Not a lightweight film by any stretch, just an honest account of life in a forgotten corner of this ‘United Kingdom’.
Focusing on the cycles of poverty through the lives of petty drug dealers and prostitues, the message Drew leaves us with is that violence is inevitable on the estate. There is no escaping it. It’s a tool used to determine the order of things. In other words, it’s the culture of fear that predominates. Young girls and boys are routinely beaten, recorded on phones and played back as entertainment. It moves up the chain to the lower levels of the drug trade too and if Drew was more ballsy he would show that happens all the way to the top of the pyramid. (Cue Abu Ghraib). Accounting for this violence though is beyond the remit of the film maker. Like most who take aim at the politicians for the cause of such ‘disorder’ , Ill Manors saves itself from that embarrassment. It does however invoke one politician, perhaps Britains greatest or at least its most cherished, more by association than by design, in offering us a defence for the film. Churchill’s noted dictum, ‘we shape our buildings; thereafter they shape us’ is chopped and screwed and reassigned now as a cheap marketing ploy, a movie tag line.
For all the infinite youthful enthusiasm and naivete, Drew crafts a fine debut film. Leaving aside some obvious directional flaws. It employs the talents of Riz Ahmed who delivers a strong performance as the drug runner with a conscience, Aaron. Who is undone, though by the lack of a decent script and one dimensional character. His ‘De Niro’ moment was slightly infantile and unnecessary but displayed more than enough potential for meatier roles to come. Alongside him were a cast of street tough first timers who where having a great time being themselves and lent the film a vibrancy, and more importantly the, authenticity to keep its audience satisfied. Given the setting and the context of the film, Drew brings his real strength in the soundtacking and editing. The narrative is allowed to take occassional breathers and a music video format comes into play to fill in some back stories, through the Drew’s colourful rap sequences. Frenetic cutting, slick shots and some brilliant night time photography lends perfectly to the texture of the overall piece. Ill Manors will need a couple of yeas to percolate. But Ben Drew should be happy with the results.
Ill Manors is in cinemas 6th June 2012.
Director: Ben Drew
Writer: Ben Drew
Stars: Riz Ahmed, Ed Skrein, Natalie Press
Runtime: 121 min