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Not great, but worth seeing for Marc Warren's performance
"Al's Lads" is not one of the best films you'll rent, but it's an unpretentious bit of fun that is elevated by the excellent performance of its charismatic lead actor, Marc Warren.
The story is about a trio of Liverpool lads looking to make good in 1920's Chicago when they fall under the auspices of Al Capone. Marc Warren stars as Jimmy, a feisty, but goodhearted boxer. Comic relief is provided by his mates, Danny (Ralf Little) and Eddie (Stephen Lord), who spend most of their time running away from thugs, trading banter and canoodling with baby-voiced prostitutes.
Brilliantly photographed by Nic Knowland, many scenes have a rich, glowing quality that accentuates the wonderfully detailed sets and costumes. The fight scenes, in particular, are beautifully lit. Director Richard Standeven keeps things moving at a fairly energetic pace and most of the actors turn in spirited performances.
Unfortunately, all of this is in service to a very mediocre script by Marc Gee. There's nothing much original here and there's a lot that's cliched, including one nonsensical plot development that occurs only because two characters must be thrown together if the rest of the story is to proceed. At the risk of sounding like a prude, there is way too much use of the "f" word " (the IMDb doesn't like profanity, but you know which one I mean) which seems to be integral to every sentence uttered by every gangster. By the end of the film, it becomes very boring and even distracting, as you begin to ponder exactly how many times the word has been used in the entire script and consider watching the film again just so you can make an accurate tally.
Another flaw lies with Edith, the gangster's moll. She is the least fully realized character in the film and Kirsty Mitchell's wooden performance doesn't help matters. Although she looks gorgeous, Ms. Mitchell delivers her lines in a barely modulated monotone, a far cry from the fiery personality Edith should have. The fact that Edith appears to be nothing more than a beautiful, bored flapper makes it hard to understand why Jimmy is willing to risk his life for her.
The best scenes in the movie occur once Jimmy is placed under the tutelage of grizzled trainer, Boom-Boom, played with appealing world-weariness by Richard Roundtree. The crucial chemistry missing in the romantic storyline lies here, between Warren and Roundtree. Consequently, the relationship between Jimmy and Boom-Boom is the most affecting one in the film, as the characters bond over sit-ups, roadwork and sparring. It's obvious that Marc Warren put his heart and soul into training for the film. He's in extremely good shape and handles the many physical demands of the part with seeming ease.
As an actor, Mr. Warren has always had a feline quality - a sense of controlled power lying in wait behind a graceful stillness - and it serves him well in this film. Whether bursting with raw energy in the convincingly staged fight scenes, sharing a moment of quiet intensity with Roundtree or subtly revealing his character's vulnerable side in romantic scenes, Warren never hits a false note. He is completely mesmerizing onscreen, but has yet to find a film vehicle worthy of his prodigious talents. He should be getting a crack at the kind of parts Jude Law and Ewan McGregor seem to have cornered. Marc Warren is one of the most talented and compelling actors of his generation and I hope a role comes along soon.
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