Yardie

★★★☆☆

Promising but emotionally unsatisfying directorial debut from Idris Elba, focusing on the Jamaican gang scene

Idris Elba makes his directorial debut with Yardie, an engaging gangland tale adapted from Victor Headley's 1992 novel. Focusing on the rarely-depicted Jamaican gang scene, it begins in 1973 in Kingston, Jamaica when the 10-year-old Dennis (Antwayne Eccleston) – the film's protagonist – witnesses the death of his older brother Jerry (Everaldo Creary), who has tried to broker peace between two warring factions by organising a music night.

Rather than turn away from violence, the young D, as he is known, vows revenge. As he grows up, D (played as an adult by Aml Ameen) works for local crime lord King Fox (Sheldon Shepherd). Concerned that D won't let his thirst for vengeance slide, Fox sends him to London on a mission to transport a kilo of cocaine to his British contact Rico (Stephen Graham), a crazed white Jamaican with a taste for the powder.

While it's a pity Elba didn't cast himself in a role – his presence alone would be a priceless commodity – he directs with assurance. As D swiftly makes an enemy of Rico, and sets out to swipe his business with the contraband he's brought to England, the scenes in gloomy 1980s London are delivered with tasty authority.

However, it doesn't entirely work. Elba tries to find some emotional grist, whether it's D's attempts to avenge his sibling, or re-connect with Yvonne (Shantol Jackson), mother to his daughter, who has moved to London. But Yardie never really elevates itself beyond its pulpy material.

Still, Ameen is excellent, while Graham is off-the-chain as Rico, frequently slipping into Jamaican patois. It throbs with some thumping tracks, including from The Isley Brothers and Grace Jones, and boasts an impressive score from Tindersticks' Dickon Hinchcliffe. While it doesn't usurp 1972's Jamaican gangster classic The Harder They Come, this still reverberates with anger and energy.

General release from Fri 31 Aug.

Topics

Yardie

Dennis (Ameen) is a young man who vows vengeance for the death of his older brother. Elba directs with assurance, with gloomy 80s London coming across with tasty authority, but it never quite transcends its pulpy material. Still, Ameen is excellent, it’s got a thumping soundtrack and it rings with anger and energy.