Film - Anti-social: Special Edition

Susan Omand wanders off to watch Anti-social: the Special Edition cut, released today...

“Central London: As graffiti-artist Dee (Gregg Sulkinn) and fashion-model Kirsten (Meghan Markle) embark on a whirlwind romance, his brother, Smash-and-Grab diamond thief Marcus (Josh Myers), rides high as an underworld ‘face’ on a wave of dare-devil armed-robberies. But while Dee finds a new way of life with Kirsten away from the grit of the street, Marcus makes a move into the lucrative London drugs-rackets and ignites a gangland war resulting in multiple murder and ultra-violence. Ruthlessly hunted by rival criminal Leon (Skepta), Marcus turns to his underworld mentor for help and is offered the biggest score of his life – a high risk West End heist which will bring Dee and Kirsten’s world crashing down…”

From reading that synopsis this sounds like a starting point for a pretty good film, doesn’t it? It’s just a real pity that it took a full hour of the film to get to that point. After that though yes, the last 40/45 minutes of the film WAS pretty good with a well set up final heist, intricate planning and execution, neat twist and a fine, if a bit predictable, ending. However, the hour before that was, in my view, far too drawn out, taking much too long to get to the important bit, with not a lot of payoff on character building or entertainment in the process. To me, it could have been much more successfully achieved in 20 minutes or so, to make this into the action/heist film I was expecting from the synopsis.

So what went wrong with the first hour of the film? There were two equally weighted back stories being developed – that of Dee and of his brother Marcus. I found Dee’s back story very confusing, to be honest, as a lot of it is not well explained, unless I’m trying to read too much into it. Take the relationship between Dee and Kirsten for example. In all the time the film spends building their characters it’s never explained how these two got together and it’s such an incongruous mix that it just doesn’t make sense to me. As I saw it, Dee is a young guy living at home, in a council estate in East London, with his mother. He’s a motorbike courier by day to make ends meet and by night he and his mates go out with their spray cans and stencils to tag the neighbourhood. How then does he end up as the boyfriend of an American fashion model and getting art gallery commissions for prestigious events? In fact, until the last half hour or so of the film, his character feels completely superfluous to the plot. Even going back and watching it again, knowing the payoff, I still don’t think so much emphasis should have been put on trying to build his character. All we needed to know for this film to work is that he was Marcus’ brother and that he’d managed to “get out” from the implied difficult upbringing to do his own thing but this didn’t really come across well at all. In the end I think that could have been done with one phone call and better location use so the whole thing felt out of balance. However, the fact that this is the Special Edition and a director’s cut may have had something to do with it.

Marcus’ own gang-related back story was handled better but was not entertaining to watch. When you’re expecting, as I was, essentially a heist movie that was somewhere between Lock, Stock and Oceans 11, watching gangs sit around watching TV and dealing with mundane issues before staging smash and grab raids in shopping centres where we don’t know anything about them beforehand, is not what I wanted. OK, I realise organised crime isn’t glamorous and there was perceived to be a need to show the “harsh realities” of everyday life in gangland London but that wasn’t the kind of film I was promised. I didn’t need to see people sitting around in flats for hours at a time, I could watch Eastenders and get that kind of thing, which is something I actively and vehemently avoid. I wanted to see the brains at work, planning stages of the “wave of dare-devil” robberies, because a big deal had been made, from what I had read, about how the robberies were based on real events and it could have been fascinating. Even the gang violence in the first hour, because there is a LOT of violence in this film, felt very uncomfortably dealt with and downright sordid at times, despite the fact a lot of it was merely implied but never shown.

Plot and directorial decisions aside, there were a couple of good things going for the film. The first was, ironically, the acting of Gregg Sulkin as Dee. He was very believable as the kid brother of a criminal, treading a thin line for family, and his fear towards the end of the film was palpable. The other plus point is the soundtrack – the music is really well chosen, with a great mix of known tracks and original scoring adding to the "gritty realism" of the film.

So the thing I’ll take away from this film is that I need to be wary of too much expectation. If you’re looking for a fun Hollywood heist style action movie, this isn’t it, although the ending tries to be. If you’re looking for a 21st century version of the Krays film, this also isn’t it because the characters and their stories aren’t interesting or engaging enough. And if you’re looking for an indepth study of the type of brains behind some of the greatest robberies of recent years, go somewhere else because you won't get that information here. But these are just my opinions, I knew what I wanted and I didn’t get it. You will have different expectations and get exactly what you want from the film.

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