Synopsis – A man looks to find a way to escape the criminal ways of his outlaw family.
My Take – Since the inception of crime films, they have been many features which revolve around a close knit family sticking together in good & terrible. The family bonds in this community are always strong and the codes of loyalty and respect are clearly passed through the generations from father to son. There’s an irresistible draw in following such form of a near-claustrophobic close family, with a tendency for the reprehensible and a penchant for illegal activities. There’s usually a complicated family dynamic, especially if a crime specialty is passed down generation after generation and at least one member who’s itching to break free from the family business. This is essentially what this debut feature from British director Adam Smith, whose filmography consists of behind camera duties on acclaimed shows like ‘Doctor Who’ and ‘Skins’, is about. This certainly isn’t unfamiliar territory, but when done right, it is always compelling. At the outset, this certainly has the look of a great film. Plus, we have two immensely talented leads in Michael Fassbender and Brendan Gleeson and some slick cinematography to back that up. However, despite a material that emits promise, there is nothing overly grandeur about this film and that is mainly due to its heavily misguided and flat storyline which consists of a bunch of subplots that appear to have been incorporated to pass as one flowing narrative. Sure, there are times when the film sucks you in with some visceral action, and sucker punches you with its wonderfully observed relationships, thanks to the chemistry shared by its wonderful cast, yet the final product seems so ordinary. The story follows Chad Cutler (Michael Fassbender), one of the more conflicted members of a long line of criminals, ne’er-do-wells and outlaws who have set themselves up in a cluster of caravans with a ragged bunch of criminal accomplices in rural Somerset. At first, seemingly unbothered by stealing cars and breaking into homes, the lifelong getaway driver longs for a better environment, better prospects, and a better life for his wife Kelly (Lyndsey Marshal) and two young children, Tyson (Georgie Smith) and Mini (Kacie Anderson) by attempting to get a secure home in the regular folk town and by sending them to a good school.
Yet, any hope for improvement remains frustratingly just out of reach under the commanding and domineering watch of the unyielding family patriarch, Chad’s father, Colby (Brendan Gleeson), who spends most of his evening around the campfire, unloading his twisted musings on Jesus – a fellow outlaw – and the hypocrisies of law-abiding society on the family. Chad finds himself torn between the life he has been born and raised into where criminality is an everyday occurrence, and another life where he may only find disappointment and prejudice. But Colby has other ideas, as he pushes Chad into a heist that goes terribly wrong, hereby bringing down the full force of the law enforcement led by P.C. Lovage (Rory Kinnear), upon them all. Here, both Chad and filmmaker Adam Smith revel in the thrill of the chase, whether it’s the opening scene that sees the Cutlers careering across a field in pursuit of a hare, or driving a painted yellow car through town with the police right on their tail or involved in a high speed cat and mouse chase in the middle of the night after a robbery. Chad and the rest of his brood live a wild lifestyle, brimming with immaturity, irresponsibility and ignorance, and yet they remain strangely endearing, at least for the most part. Adam Smith’s debut feature film – it is also the first full-length screenplay credited to writer Alastair Siddons – is a nuanced character study set on the wrong side of the tracks. Infused with the amusingly set of crime sprees—lots of speeding around in freshly painted jalopies, then pillaging the buildings they crash into—and the local cops all know that the Cutler boys are responsible, even when they can’t catch them, it affords viewers much-needed bouts of action necessary to spice up what would otherwise be a slightly-too-slow for its own good plot. The film touts itself on a tenacious battle between father and son, two generations of criminals coming to odds. Yet, in reality this ideological quarrel eventuates into nothing close to climatic. What should be a battle is short-handed to Chad being afraid to stand up to his father. How is that for tension? The answer is non-existent. Instead of watching stakes rise we endure a thirty year old man being told what to do by his father repeatedly. The attempts at suspense are water-treaded making for a film devoid of both spectacle and resonance. The story languishes in a drab fare, not developing themes or excitement to a monotonous consequence. Throughout, Chad makes plans to get his wife Kelly and their two kids away from Colby and his gaggle of freaks and low-life’s; but that storyline never really comes to much. Much of the second half of the film deals with the aftermath of the mansion job, which is so splashy that the authorities can’t ignore it as just “the Cutlers being the Cutlers.” But even here, the noose-tightening is too sudden to function as a suspense-builder, or even as a major narrative driver. And very little time is spent on fleshing out the story of Kelly and Chad’s long romance, or how the kooky Colby came to be a country kingpin. Once you get your bearings and sort everybody out, the film’s main attraction lies in watching Chad’s long overdue attempts to squirm out of Colby’s grip. While he bristles at his father’s malign effect on Tyson, he vacillates, unable to make the break and adopt an existence which would mean making peace with his old enemy, the local cop, P.C Lovage with gleefully applied lashings of flattering superiority. Alastair Siddons’ screenplay is heavy with Brogue slang and thick accents that will leave most viewers completely lost, you got to give it to him for providing the characters with some fantastic dialogues, particularly when the film is contrasting Colby’s methods of parenting to Chad’s. We also get a really clear sense of the dynamic of this small community. They’re rough around the edges, but at the end of the day, they’re inseparable.
Even Sean Harris’ mentally ill pyromaniac Gordon feels at home, even if his purpose often involves annoying the others with his matches and chickens. There isn’t a great deal of time given to the crime-driven elements of the story because frankly, they’re not that interesting. That is due largely, to the fact that the story never summates to anything overly compelling. The stakes are raised in such a trivialized notion, consequently, forcing the film to amass a disposition of digressive grunge. Adam Smith’s direction is solid but he never quite finds a voice of his own. He’s clearly trying very hard to capture the essence of what makes films like these great. The colors are nicely muted, the chase sequences are fluid with a palpable element of danger, and the violence is restrained but disturbing. However, there’s nothing that really sticks out about it, as he mostly relies on the screenplay to take center stage. That’s not necessarily a bad thing but a director with a bit more flourish could’ve easily taken this film over the top. The film also isn’t without its fair share of clichés. Though it may never be referred to as such, there is a clear sense of the ‘one last heist’ being played out, while the guy trying to go straight but facing prejudice and overcoming his circumstances has been done to death in other films. But this particular travelling community has remained largely unexplored on film and is unlikely to see such titans as Fassbender and Gleeson draw attention to it again in a hurry. While what could make for a fine vignette, sadly feels uninspired throughout the 99 minute duration. Michael Fassbender and Brendan Gleeson are the two main reasons to see this film and they are indeed spot-on in their respective roles, showing a growing and understandable friction between the father/son dynamic. It’s thrilling to watch such colossal talents at Gleeson and Fassbender square off against one another on screen. The men play their respective characters as deeply introspective, although in stunningly different ways. In the tragic aftermath of X-Men: Apocalypse and Assassin’s Creed, it is wonderful to see Michael Fassbender in a film deserving of his talent again. While Chad is a very charismatic man, he’s also filled with insecurity and anxiety. Fassbender holds all of this below the surface but we can always feel it lurking underneath. It’s the kind of subtle intensity that he’s built his career on. While Fassbender works hard, Brendan Gleeson is the standout. Given the most substance, Gleeson articulates an aggressive, punctilious demeanor, a figure reveling in the criminal domain in which he is clearly the king. Gleeson’s Colby is not so sinister or odious a figure as to catapult the story forward even while off screen scheming, but both he and Fassbender are compelling enough leading men to carry the film in its slower moments. Lyndsey Marshal, Sean Harris and Rory Kinnear don’t get much to offer in supporting roles. On the whole, ‘Trespass Against Us’ is watchable for its talented leads, despite the film being a bit too formulaic for its own good.
Directed – Adam Smith
Rated – R
Run Time – 99 minutes