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Originally from the Midlands, Jimmy is currently living in Glasgow eking out a living as a hapless petty crook. One day, he sees his old family and friends - including his older foster sister Carol, her boyfriend/his old buddy Charlie, Jimmy's ex-wife and Carol's best friend Shirley, and Jimmy's pre-teen daughter Marlene - on a television talk show, they baring their souls to a national audience. He has not seen any of them in years. Of note on the show, Shirley rejects the marriage proposal of her slightly awkward live-in boyfriend Dek. Jimmy sees her answer to Dek as a reason to head back to the Midlands to reunite with his past, especially with Shirley and Marlene. Dek, already humiliated, is less than thrilled to see Jimmy back in their lives. In the ensuing duel between Jimmy and Dek for Shirley and Marlene's affections, others get caught up in the crossfire. Meanwhile, three of Jimmy's equally hapless crook friends from Glasgow come looking for him, Jimmy who left them high and ... Written by
Lacks tension, suspense and a real stone wall atmosphere but it is marginally funny and somewhat appealing.
Once Upon a Time in the Midlands seems to make naming your film 'Once Upon a Time in.....' seem like a bit of a gimmick. Indeed, a year earlier Robert Rodriquez was left floundering with his over the top, epic tail of mediocrity named 'Mexico' but 'Midlands' does not make the same mistakes and nor does it ever veer too far over the line of 'big budget television drama'. However, if it doesn't veer too far over the line that's not to say it does not veer over the line at all, because it does and truth is; 'Midlands' is a pretty ordinary film.
The film can either be a big budget TV drama or a small budget film; like I said, it becomes a little too much of the former for my liking and thus fails as an engaging and intriguing tail of love, loss and family values. In fact, what it ends up as is a story that comes; sticks around and then goes again with a disappointing anticlimax and a series of scenes that remain interesting given the situation but lack any atmosphere. The story revolves around a man, named Jimmy (Carlyle), as he returns to where he once lived upon seeing a live (those things are broadcast live?) daytime chat show in order to seek out the one he loved and fathered a child with she is Shirley (Henderson). Trouble is, times have changed and she has moved on; she's with Dek (Ifans), a well respected but somewhat eccentric mechanic. The problem is with this idea, albeit a brilliant one, is that Jimmy is shown as a far too good-a person to make us want to hate him and Dek is put across as a far too funny-a person to make us want to think he is up for the challenge; thus it is no surprise when the film meanders and wonders around in a bit of a daze.
It is true to say that the opening scene focuses on Jimmy as he lies there, lost and unhappy we feel; but he is then shown to be a bit of a lad; a bit of a criminal as he and three Glaswegian thieves steal a case of money from four clowns. Even then, we can empathise with the thief in Jimmy because the heist scene is funny and why would four clowns get out of a Ford Galaxy whilst carrying a case full of money? Whatever they did, it seems they might have deserved what they got. So, so far we have spent time with Jimmy: the film could have gone down two routes: 1; make him seem evil and give him antagonistic traits meaning that when he comes for Shirley, we will be wary of him. Or 2; do not show him at all so that the impact of this rough looking guy who has shown up wanting to be together with Shirley again is a jolt to the audience and character alike 'Midlands' does neither, it makes Jimmy look like an ordinary guy, like a 'lad'; harmless yet humorous.
But what the film does isn't necessarily bad, just a little out of place. On the flip side; Dek, at least to me, came off as a bit of an eccentric and out of sorts guy who did not embody the traits required if he was going to be a hero of any sorts. Consequently, any scene in which he and Jimmy face off or are put in a location together should be filled with tension as a perhaps evil, Scottish criminal and an upstanding but strong hero come face to face what we get is a misunderstood, comic Jimmy and a wimp of a hero Dek, in an office, having an anti-climatic square off. Secondly, Jimmy really could've been established as a psycho with a few scenes in which Jimmy is perhaps stalking Shirley or drawing attention to himself through anti-social and foreboding behaviour but what we get is a couple of silly scenes at his sister's house but a good scene when she tells him what's what, however that further deflates any menace about him because there and then, the 'villain' is beaten and by his own sister, too This shows us he is vulnerable.
So onto the supporting characters; the sister is Carol (Burke) who does a lot of shouting and screaming in that annoying accent Kathy Burke carries; her husband Charlie (Tomlinson) is an introduced but underdeveloped folk singer that doesn't have much to do; the girl in question the two leads are fighting for, Shirley, is a one dimensional character who speaks as if she has something stuck in her throat and just when the film's crucible gets interesting when the Glaswegians come back for Jimmy, they disappear after one failed ambush but don't worry, they're there at the end in time for a 'funny' scene on the motorway and the running joke that they steal every car they drive feels out of place. So, Once Upon a Time in the Midlands feels anti-climatic; it feels empty in its atmosphere and development of its already familiar characters and it certainly ends in a disappointing manner leaving you with a feeling of 'So, what was all that for?' When you are supposed to feel anger, suspense, joy, fear or anything else; you'll feel nothing and that is a shame as it was a good idea, just executed a little heavy-handedly.
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