If you're a fan of Plan B and his music then you'll adore this in-your-face, intense blast of aggressive urban realism. The big surprise for me - movie enthusiast - was that it's also a cinematic knockout. Stylish and compelling; great characterisation, vibrant but not overwhelming soundtrack, and some very deft plotting of multiple narratives involving the ensemble cast. If this had been produced in LA it would be a worldwide winner.
The themes, situation and even the overall style of Ill Manors aren't anything new, however. Imagine a mash-up between the first season of The Wire: Complete HBO Season 1-5 [DVD
] and Clockers [DVD] [1996
], set in the skanky London backstreets of Misfits (Series 1)
, and you've nailed the mood. Spike Lee melded street music, brutal drug-culture street life and the corrosive effects of gang culture at least 15 years ago, and Ill Manors interprets those same themes on the streets of contemporary London.
But that doesn't diminish Ill Manors in any way - it tells a gripping storyline, packed with punchy 'didn't see that coming' moments of startling drama. It veers from blunt street violence to examining the nature of friendship and loyalty in a snapshot. If you ever wondered how 'nice kids' get dragged into gang, drugs and gun culture then this film sheds light on the power of peer pressure, on the need to conform, to gain respect... even at the expense of another human life.
At time the action and language should make you flinch: there's no avoiding the brutal treatment of kidnapped young women forced to work as prostitutes or the dehumanising demands of a drug addiction. However, this isn't a depressing film, nor a pessimistic one. It strips away the bravado of the young bulls with all their swagger, and highlights the appalling unforeseen consequences of their actions. Violence inevitably breeds more violence... but there is hope. Some can and do choose not to fire the gun, or not to turn away from another person who needs help.
The first half-hour is a bit overwhelming, perhaps too impressed with tricksy filming techniques and a barrage of abuse from all quarters. But thereafter it rips along at a compelling pace, chopping between seemingly unrelated events to weave them into one extremely satisfying conclusion. And look out for the tribute scene to Taxi Driver [DVD]  [1999
], and a cameo from John Cooper Clarke.
Easily offended folks definitely should not watch: the script reminded me somewhat of Casino [DVD] [1996
] for its creative use of invective. As the action highlights the unvarnished, sordid side of life, so crude and explicit drug use, sexual activity and language are front and central in most scenes.
It's rough around the edges, but all the better for that.