Now here’s the thing, Plan B has never struck me as a particularly talented musican or interesting chap, and I haven’t seen films from recent years like Kidulthood that (presumably) influence his directorial debut – as Ben Drew – Ill Manors.
With apathy towards both Red Tails and Snow White and the Huntsman, I went along to see Ill Manors essentially because someone on twitter told me it was great whilst I’d read other suggestions that it was terrible. In those cases it’s always best to see for yourself. Ill Manors turned out to be a heavy going endurance test of unlikable characters and soul destroying events. But not necessarily in a bad way.
Ill Manors provides an impressive shot of British ‘urban’ culture. It seems to aim for authenticity, but quite how true its depictions of drug dealers, gangsters, thugs and prostitutes are I’m not quite sure since I’ve never come across any of these types. It did slightly put me off the prospect of my late night walk back home through north London though.
The plot is hard to explain on paper but it essentially involves a bunch of characters going about their business in a criss-crossing narrative, think Magnolia: East London. If there’s a central character it’s Riz Ahmed’s Aaron. The only actor previously known to me (and that was really just because of Four Lions), he’s a young man that’s grown up in the tough world of foster care and drug dealing. Also in the mix are his friend Ed, the dealer they both work for and the dealer’s estranged son, a rival dealer, a couple of kids getting mixed up in bad things, pub landlords, a whore, and an eastern European drug addict with baby. Riz Ahmed is really likable on screen – a talented actor with plenty of charisma; the rest of the cast are of more varied abilities.
Cinematically it’s a mixed bag. Some good ideas and impressive scenes are mixed up in a muddled and frustrating structure. It lacked focus, and early on felt like procession of one unlikable character after the next. It took time to work out who we were supposed to like and who we weren’t, and once that happened we weren’t given enough time with the ones we cared for. Later in the film, everything converged and all of a sudden there was payoff, but about three too many false endings made the film feel way too long (and to be fair, at 121 minutes is about 20-30 minutes too long).
The final third is the biggest mess: why introduce another character that late in the game? And Russian gangsters, missing babies and pub fires felt like an Eastenders influenced contrivance too far.
But Drew shows some real promise as a first time director. He has a real flair for visuals and some of the editing choices are excellent. The sections where he combines rap narration with visual character histories are simply brilliant.
What Drew really needed was a good script editor, someone to break down the various strands, eliminate or combine unnecessary characters, add a genuine lead role, take away the non-sequiturs and instead build to one cataclysmic crescendo. As a solo first time writer in addition director, he was probably biting off more than he could chew. I am looking forward to his future though, and seeing if he can hone his skills as a filmmaker.