Youths today, eh?
There’s nothing quite like the sight of a gang of pockmarked, track-suited youths gawping lethargically at their iPhones, babbling witlessly to one another and sucking up nitrous oxide from balloons that makes you feel like an old, cantankerous fuckwit. I used to be young, once. I remember it. I remember having a full head of hair and listening to my Walkman on the train. I remember wearing army camouflage trousers because I was THAT kid. I used to discuss the sort of things young people do, such as embarrassing sexual exploits I’d heard about in an effort to fit in, or slouch on the bus seat on the way to school, looking fed up and answering people back in that irritable, contemptuous way, demanding respect for absolutely no reason whatsoever.
Yeah, man. I remember being young.
It was shite.
Fortunately then, I can revisit the awkwardness my younger years and of British social realism with Jamie Jone’s Obey – a well directed and well acted film that defies expectations of the working class, poverty stricken genre. Like Ken Loach’s I, Daniel Blake – Obey tells a story that anyone that lives in London is familiar with, but is shot with such energy and fluidity, you’ll be hard-pressed not to get sucked into the world Jones creates.
And he lays this out early on, with the opening shot telling the viewer everything you need to know about Obey. A steady, one shot captures six youths walking towards the camera. They’re talking about the kind of things that youngsters talk about – walking in the middle of the road, insulting each other, punching each other on the arm…and there’s an expectation that there may be an accident or a possible dangerous event that occurring as cars shoot by the screen. This bubbling anticipation lingers at the back of the mind, there’s a kinetic energy surrounding this group that you can’t quite put your finger on. The conversation veers to a possible theft from a car, and this is where the protagonist emerges and stakes a claim on the drama. Leon (Marcus Rutherford) smashes the car window to steal a purse. It’s this opening segment that operates as a microcosm of the film as a whole, a very subtle but effective way of establishing the anger, fear and reality of the streets of London leading up to the 2011 riots.
Leon is an unemployed 19-year old with no qualifications or work experience. He’s just out of juvenile care, back at home with his caring but lonely and alcoholic single mum, Chelsea (T’Nia Miller). His father’s not in the picture anymore, so he channels his energy into boxing and hanging out with his friends, typically getting into mischief. They attend a squat party and he meets the social activist and graceful Twiggy (Sophie Kennedy Clark), who draws him into her world. The plot is simple, the shots steady. When his mother introduces a thuggish new boyfriend into the mix, Leon attempts to escape his humdrum, wasted life which often lacks focus, but his frustrations grow as he realises that perhaps his idealized visualisation is just a fantasy.
if you’re a fan of independent, British cinema, then you’ll find a plethora of levels to digest and absorb with this story. Rutherford gives an exceptional performance as Leon; you empathise with his plight and you find yourself urging him on to find the balance of life he so desperately seeks, but there are others that may roll their eyes at yet another London film set in council estates that include heavy themes of alcoholism, abuse and racial tension. But Jones captures heartfelt moments within the raw realism. There’s a contemplative barge ride along a river, a shot of Leon playing with his Scalextric set to display the lost childhood you imagine he never really experienced – and even softer moments when Leon gets Twiggy’s phone number or when she applies a gauze to his face wound later in the film. Obey delves into the subconscious of power, of trying to reach a pinnacle you’ll never aspire to, the crisis of loyalty amongst friends and trying to find something that will make you happy in life.
Obey is a confident, well drawn directorial debut.
REVIEW BY ANTHONY SELF
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