Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Wed Mar 17, 2010 1:48 pm 
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Five or six ways of killing your friends

Comedic TV actors, writers, and director collaborate on this typically British drier-than-dry, hilarious, and violent feature shot with minimal means. Wheatley used friends as actors, shot most of it in their house, with much improvisation, in only eight days. The film narrates several weeks in the lives of a group of (at first anyway) very ordinary-seeming criminals. Their specific line of work was stripped away in Wheatley's minimalist story line from an original screenplay. It was mean to be "a film about the structure of drug supply in Brighton." In what remains, casual murders alternate with reminiscences about Zen-like doper life in the Sixties, problems of unexpected pregnancy, and cups of tea in the breakfast room.

The characters aren't dapper, but the amoral elan of Patricia Highsmith's Tom Ripley may come to mind as we watch Maggie (Julia Deakin), Bill (Robert Hill), Karl (Robin Hill) , Uncle Eric, Pringle, John and Garvey chat and chop and roll up in plastic associates whose presence has become tiresome to them. Maybe this is The Godfather as Mike Leigh would see it, if his chief writer were Harold Pinter.

Karl and dad Bill seem in the same line of work since both have just gotten out of prison. Amid reminiscing about his days as a seeker of wisdom and the perfect high, Bill, dad of Karl and husband of Maggie, wonders who ratted them out. But Karl is faced with an immediate problem: Valda (Kerry Peacock), who turns up pregnant, she says, with his child. Bill sees fit to question his fatherhood, but Karl thinks it's time to assume a more responsible life. But Karl is staying with his parents and they say he can take in the kid, but never Valda.

The economy of means does not keep the images from being crystal clear and the dialogue has great assurance in the delivery, though it is sometimes hard to follow for viewers from across the Pond. Kitchen sink realism and black comedy make a droll and unexpected combination. The film, which has been shown at a number of festivals, is to be released in the US by Magnolia Pictures. It was included as part of the Lincoln Center/MoMA New Directors/New Films series (end of March 2010) and is the first feature by Ben Wheatley, who has much experience in England in comedy writing for TV and the Internet and advertising. The co-writer and editor was his long-time collaborator and a cast member, Robin Hill. Robin's father is played by his real father, his girlfriend is played by his real girlfriend, and the action takes place at his parents' house in Down Terrace. Thus Ben made what he calls a "pragmatic film," that is, one too practical to put off making, as he long had the "Hollywood" scripts he'd co-authored in the past with Robin, which would have cost too much and taken too long to make and so were always put off.

Down Terrace is likely to have a small but enthusiastic audience. After seeing it at the Fantastic Fest in Austin, Texas, William Goss wrote that after "you find out it was shot in a mere eight days. . . you just want to give up on life." But of course Wheatley and his talented friends brought a great deal of experience to their minimal means. If the success of the film is sufficient to permit Wheatley to move further afield and continue funding his work without mortgaging his house, this may prove as auspicious a debut as Danny Boyle's Shallow Grave; but compared to that film, Wheatley's shows less of a penchant for location shots and on-screen action: this is far more like a theatrical set piece à la Martin McDonagh.

©Chris Knipp. Blog:

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