Great performances from Joe Cole and English Frank let down by derivative plotting
Billed as a 21st century Scum, this derivative contemporary British revenge thriller is the debut feature of commericals director Ron Scalpello. Scripted by Paul Van Carter, it’s the wildly melodramatic story of a teenage labourer Tommy (Joe Cole from Skins), who deliberately assaults a couple of policemen during the 2011 riots in order to get himself sent to a young offenders institution. Through flashback sequences we learn that his pregnant girlfriend Elise (Kimberley Nixon) has recently been beaten up so badly by gangsters that she suffered a miscarriage. Having learnt that the thugs responsible for the attack, who include the formidable Jake (English Frank), are being held in a juvenile prison, Tommy vows to track them down and deliver his own bloody form of justice.
Watching the low-budget Offender, one can’t help thinking of the superior films it references. There’s Alan Clarke’s Scum in its borstal setting, its vision of a sadistic regime of incarceration, and its climactic riot, there’s Gaspar Noé’s Irreversible, in its nightmarish portrayal of a cycle of revenge-fuelled violence, and there’s also Jacques Audiard’s A Prophet, in the way it highlights ethnic tensions amongst the prisoners. Yes there is an undeniable viscerality to the performances here, especially those of Cole and hip hop artist Frank. Yet the relish with which Scalpello films the scenes of violence and the way the camera lingers on the lividly bruised and battered faces of his characters, plus the clichéd use of slow motion, epitomise the film’s limitations.
Elise, whose fate is so important in propelling Tommy’s relentless pursuit of vengeance is particularly underwritten, whilst the ludicrous characterisation of Nash (Shaun Dooley) – a former army tank driver who smokes skunk with Jake’s mob in their cell – undermines the filmmakers’ claims of authenticity.
General release from Wed 8 Aug.