Offender, a revenge flick at heart, is marketed more as a combination of two different subgenres, one of which I love, one I am much less fond of. On the one hand it’s a prison movie, a genre I usually enjoy and one the British film industry has an excellent record in, the likes of Alan Clarke’s Scum or the more recent The Escapist sit easily amongst the very best in the world (Scum being the daddy). On the other hand, it is also an ‘urban’ drama, a genre usually consisting of a mind numbing cocktail of tracksuits, gold chains and indecipherable slang designed to make me feel old and confused. My enjoyment of Offender was always going to depend on which subgenre the movie leaned toward the most.
The story concerns Tommy (Joe Cole), a young labourer whose life is torn apart when a viscous gang assault his pregnant girlfriend, killing his unborn child. Upon discovering that those responsible are in a young offenders institute on an unrelated charge, Tommy realises his only chance for revenge is to get locked up alongside them.
Despite a promising premise, there is little to enjoy about Offender. As a prison movie, it doesn’t work at all, there’s no real insight into prison life, and what should be an intimidating and oppressive setting is totally wasted. It also fails as an urban drama, while films such as Kidulthood and Ill Manors are careful not to glamourise gang culture in any way, Offender features far, far too many slow-mo shots of swaggering idiots looking hard to the strains of pounding UK hip-hop. It all resembles a bad music video more than it does a movie. Much like (the superior) Michael Caine revenge flick Harry Brown, It’s really just a genre movie dressed as social commentary, it doesn’t have anything relevant to say about the youth of today, or crime and punishment, the urban angle is pure marketing.
Then there are the performances, the quality ranging from simply ok, right through to staggeringly inept. Joe Cole as Tommy clearly has some potential as an actor, his scenes with Kimberly Nixon as girlfriend Elise are good and he displays both subtlety and charisma. Unfortunately the rest of his performance is pretty one note, just varying degrees of wide eyed, trembling fury, which he does well but it begins to grate after thirty minutes or so of that and nothing else. Compared to rapper English Frank, who plays the primary antagonist Jake, Cole is De Niro. Frank’s performance is the most laughable, ham-fisted attempt at acting I have witnessed outside of those badly dubbed adverts for Haribo sweets. Striding through the entire movie staring angrily like a constipated ape, falling all over his lines like he learned to read yesterday, Frank kills every single scene he appears in stone dead. Abysmal seems too kind a word.
There are a couple of minor positives. The action scenes are quite effective (one shower room scrap in particular is full of sweaty, desperate tension) and the soundtrack is decent if you like that sort of thing. Overall though, Offender pretty much fails in every respect, as a revenge flick, a prison movie and an urban film, it misses the mark by a considerable distance.
Director: Ron Scalpello
Writer: Paul Van Carter
Stars: Joe Cole, English Frank, Kimberley Nixon
Runtime: 102 min