Thursday, June 9, 2011

Down Terrace (2009)

Recently Custard over at Frontroomcinema listed the 5 best films set in Brighton and in the discussion this movie came up. Then a few days later Bonjour Tristesse actually reviewed the film. Now I had never heard of it, as i'm sure most people haven't, but i'm partial to a bit of British gangster movie now and then - Gangster No. 1, Sexy Beast, Anything with Ray Winstone calling people slags that kind of thing - and thought it would be crazy not to watch it.

Written and directed by newcomer Ben Wheatley, Down Terrace is a different kind of British Gangster Movie. Featuring a cast of unknowns and Spaced favourites Julia Deakin and Michael Smiley.

I love all of these images for different reasons. Whoever designed the art for this movie deserves to get paid more than a tiny indie flick can afford. They all play to different genres and all feel like good representations of the film. Top left will probably only make sense after you've seen the film but when I found it during my research I couldn't help but laugh. Top right, this half imitation of Warhol in yellow, possibly the worst of the 4 but I like the feeling it gives about the characters, everyone looks a bit confused and fed up. Bottom right, a slick almost 60's era poster, similar in part to the fad they had in the late 90's of breaking up the images (see The Limey) and then bottom left, I feel like it has to be for an international audience, using the Union Jack in that way and then the tagline "it's all about to kick off" reminiscent of the football thug movies that have had a resurgance of late, guaranteed to hook a certain audience to the point that they may as well have advertised it using Danny Dyer.

It's a great trailer that really doesn't emphasise the humour enough I think. It's arty, concentrating on the verite and kitchen sink drama aspect of the production as opposed to the gangster storyline. This is interesting to me as based on the international poster I thought there would've been a different trailer, one filled with violence. Still you can't complain when a distribution company doesn't lie about the content of a film.

Synopsis? I thought you'd never ask. Bill and Karl are father and son, gangsters who narrowly escape jail after a court appearance and the film centres on the paranoia of their investigation in to who the grass is amongst their associates.

Pretty standard stuff for a criminal underworld plot but this film is different in many ways. Down Terrace focuses on the internal workings of the central characters as they go about their daily lives with this burden hanging over them. It's filled with great comedy moments from the very start and it's scarily believable.

The comedy may not be to everyone's liking. I'm a recent emmigrant from England so these characters are the kind of people I know, people I saw everyday and a lot of the humour is related to the realism for me and could easily go over people's heads. For those of you not from England who watch this, I assure you people really do behave this way.

The hitman who takes his toddler to a hit because he couldn't find a babysitter at short notice however is a slice of comedy gold that may never have come up in everyday life in the UK. Said hitman, Pringle, is extremely funny to watch and his facial expressions alone are priceless.

Not to say that this movie makes light of it's dark material, killing for these characters carries a huge amount of baggage, both before and after. The verite style of direction adds some real gravity to proceedings, the ensemble cast performance is reminiscent of the great work of Mike Leigh and whilst Poor Cow by Ken Loach springs to mind i'm unsure whether that is because of the gangster singalong in the breakfast room complete with double bass and violin or simply because he pioneered the kitchen sink realism that this movie uses to excellent effect.

The performances are all round pitch perfect, you instinctively warm to Julia Deakin's matriarch, Maggie, in a role that might draw comparisons to Jacki Weaver in Animal Kingdom, but it is the performance of film debutant Robert Hill that characterises everything this movie is about; thoughtful, melancholy, rejecting of modern society (or in the films case modern attitudes towards cinema) with a tension and violence bubbling under the surface at all times. This is no Ray Winstone style performance but it works just as powerfully and not once does anyone utter the word slag. I have just finished reading Patricia Highsmith's Talented Mr Ripley and she expertly created a simmering tension and expectation of violence yet when the violence actually happens it is dealt with quickly and matter of factly and Down Terrace is very similar in this respect.

It's funny, it's violent, it moves at a rate of knots unknown for a kitchen sink verite piece and it's very very well made. I instantly wanted to tell everyone just how good this movie was and then watch it with them. Watch it.

I can't let this review finish without a mention for David Schaal, recently seen as the extremely funny father of Jay in The Inbetweeners and putting in another great performance here.

If you like the sound of the movie from my review and actually watch it, let me know. If you don't agree with me, let me know. Film is an art form and art is open to interpretation in any number of ways. The discussion of art and individual interpretation is encouraged around here. And if you enjoy the movie head down to your local independent movie store and buy it, it's only through us actually paying for films that these film makers will get to work again. At least in an ideal world that will be the case. I'm looking at you Uwe Boll.

Down Terrace (2009) DivX -


  1. Great write up! I'm glad you enjoyed this one. About the acting, I think Robin Hill (Karl) was the weak link, although they had a great father and son dynamic going, to me he just didn't have the right look to handle the role.

  2. thanks for stopping by. i know what you mean about karl but for me his inadequacies were inherent to the story. he's a weak character, clearly only in the job because it's the family business. he looks like a guy who would struggle with a pizza delivery job and acts like it too.

  3. Hey Toby, thanks for the shout out. Always nice to see your name mentioned by another blogger!!

    I love your writing matey, makes mine look like a pre schooler.

    I SOOOO need to get my finger out my bum and get this watched I have had it in my media centre for weeks now but for one reason or another it keeps getting pushed back...DOH!!

    I promise I will do it soon.

    Thanks Toby

  4. you're welcome custard. im not so sure about pre-schooler, this is movie land so obviously you're in kindy? American dialogue abounds.

    but seriously do watch it. it's a long flight but if i have to do it to ensure you sit down and pay attention i'll do it!

  5. nice review Toby!

    You've definitely got me interested, I'll try and find it and give it a watch sometime.
    I do like the work of Mike Leigh, and even more so that of Ken Loach, so I'll probably like this one.

  6. i certainly hope so jack, although i don't feel like i'm going out on limb for this one.

  7. Hey, I remember that :P Glad you enjoyed the film; haven't read your Kill List review since I haven't seen it yet but looking forward to comparing them when it gets here. Exciting how they shot it using mostly Canon 5D...

  8. hey hels, thanks for coming over. i can't see why you wouldn't like kill list. it's awesome. :D

    the canon 5d, thats a $4k slr that also shoots video right? cos if ive got that right it's mind blowing.

  9. i think it refers to the soluble tablets they keep taking.speeking as someone who was addicted to solpadeine soluble i guess it meant that.

  10. i think it refers to the soluble tablets they keep taking.speeking as someone who was addicted to solpadeine soluble i guess it meant that.