Follows a gang of small time crooks in an English town. Malc is in danger of losing his girlfriend Kate if he doesn't spend more time at home and the gang leader Jumbo looks like he is ...
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Follows a gang of small time crooks in an English town. Malc is in danger of losing his girlfriend Kate if he doesn't spend more time at home and the gang leader Jumbo looks like he is about to lose control.Written by
Brian Rawnsley <email@example.com>
The 'mook' scene from MEAN STREETS stretched out to a whole(ish) picture.
Glorious mini-feature from the extraordinary Shane Meadows, which shows up the amiable, timid amateurishness of LOCK, STOCK AND TWO SMOKING BARRELS for what it is. It has been the stated aim of directors like Scorcese and Tarantino to demythologise the gangster, to expose him as a mundane, pathetic human being, but it never works. Maybe the style is too vivid, maybe the iconography is too strong, but the gangsters in GOODFELLAS or PULP FICTION are vibrant, vital, even likeable, motors of these films, and it is their wit and inventive opportunism we remember, not their sticky ends.
British cinema has had an easier time in deglamorising its gangsters, probably because the Krays et al are not very glamorous in the first place. They're seedy, brutal, unstylish, stupid, resolutely unexotic (US gangsters are generally Italian, a compelling, operatic founding myth to start with). Very often British films go the opposite direction, creating relentless narratives of grim, unloveable violence.
SMALLTIME doesn't take either tack. Like Olivier Assayas, Meadows 'just' films a group of ordinary people as they live, people like those you probably know, or might even be yourself. They're just a bunch of lads, living on their wits, mucking about, having a laugh, drinking, talking (not in the impossibly clever manner of Tarantino characters), brawling, having problems with their girlfriends. This could be anyone from a certain strata in British society: they just happen to be petty criminals.
Petty is certainly the word. Much of the comedy comes from the very 'small time' nature of their activities. These are not the meticulously planned heists of US cinema: in one hilarious scene, they try to steal dog food, are confronted with an unexpected and bewildering array of choice, and not realising that they don't have to climb over a back-wall door to get the stuff; in another, they actually rob a car-boot sale! The main 'heist' is a sublimely bungled attack on a massage parlour, just because its owner made fun of the Begbie-style psycho, Jumbo.
Actually, it's that scene, where Jumbo's childhood friend, a wonderfully weak-willed Paul Calf-alike, who is being constantly harrassed by his girlfriend to leave his wideboy mates, and goes with her to this masseur's house, that is the film's triumph, a masterpiece of Mike Leigh social comedy. What begins as exquisite awkwardness develops into a hilarious massage between the two men, a genuinely burgeoning relationship, and ends with a hurt Jumbo intruding, betrayed, aggressive, humiliated by the masseur.
For all its comedy, the film is a dark work, and Meadows doesn't flinch from showing the casual brutality of this world, especially in the character of Jumbo, played by the director himself. For all his macho bravado, he can't satisfy his missus, who resorts to (very funny) furtive engagements with a vibrator. His aggression begins as comic, and ends in disturbing (though unseen) violence, and it is his focal presence that prevents the film from slipping into mere patronising observation.
This doesn't mean that SMALLTIME is filmed with boring, typically British, naturalism. The casual, seemingly improvisatory air conceals style which is revelatory and supremely controlled - highly stylised, bringing out through colour and odd composition, the genuinely surreal in everyday life; cool, remote, often in long-shot, allowing for critical distance (close-ups are rare); but also, through editing and handheld camera, giving a real sense of being in the thick of the action, sharing the characters' highs and lows.
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