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Early Signs Of Promise,
This review is from: Small Time and Where's the Money Ronnie!  [DVD] (DVD)
Shane Meadows' 1996 debut feature Smalltime, which runs for around a hour, is self-evidently a rather experimental affair by a film craftsman learning his trade, but it does contain just about enough, style and content-wise, to make it into a worthwhile first effort (and a portent of things to come from Meadows). Inhabiting a space somewhere between a Lock, Stock, etc, type affair, a John Cassavetes-style improvisation and TV's Shameless, Smalltime tells the story (albeit rather haphazardly) of a group of apparent ne'er-do-wells, whose time appears to be split between indulging in petty crime (offloading second hand dog food) and boozing down the pub, but who hatch a plan to turn over a local community centre, which reputedly houses £25,000 (yes, the plot does have a few holes in it).
For Smalltime, Meadows cast himself in the lead role of Jumbo, a somewhat misogynistic yobbo with few redeeming features, as the leader of the small-time gang of would-be robbers, together with a number of other first-time actors (most of whom were personal friends of Meadows). Acting-wise, the film is nothing remarkable - as is perhaps evidenced by the fact that Meadows cast none of his Smalltime actors in lead roles in any of his follow-up features - Dena Smiles as Kate delivers, for me, the most convincing performance of Meadows' first-time cast. Narrative-wise, the film is all over the place for the first 30 minutes or so, but the final sequences surrounding the attempted robbery just about lift the film into something more than a rather uninspired mess. In particular, there is evidence here of Meadows' masterly touch (brilliantly demonstrated in much of his later work) of fitting an inspired soundtrack to his films - Meadows' long time acquaintance Gavin Clarke wrote a number of songs for the film, taking the form of a number of up-tempo small band compositions and (best of all) a couple of typically evocative and heartfelt acoustic ballads (as Clarke repeated so effectively for Meadows' later film Somers Town).
Overall then, a very mixed affair but with notable signs of promise.