Police officer Dirk Hendricks (Bartlett) files an amnesty application for Alex Mpondo (Ejiofor), a member of the South African Parliament who can't remember the torture he once endured as a captive political activist. South African-born attorney Sarah Barcant (Swank), meanwhile, returns to her homeland to represent Mpondo, as well as Steve Sizela, Mpondo's friend who was arrested along with him ... See full summary »
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Paulette P. Williams
Becomes too exaggerated and contrived to really be as involving as it needed to be
When they left school, six friends were full of hope and dreams of success. Four years later they are still trying but mostly their lives are still on the same track with their same partners and playing in the same experimental jazzy funk combo. However when Charlie gets involved in an accident it sends shockwaves through an already troubled group; Bean goes off the rails when he sees his girlfriend with another man, becoming hooked on drugs and dealing; Rix get his girlfriend Sherry pregnant and has to try and hold the band together as Sam wants to drop the jazz aspect and bring in a new vocalist to become more commercial.
Opening with the same actors supposedly playing 16/18 year olds, this film quickly moves onto four years later where, aside from school uniform, they look exactly the same however this jump in creditability is the least of your worries in a film that never stops adding to the plot in an effort to replace real emotion with pace. The story introduces to a collection of characters quite quickly and seems to have aimed to be realistic of life for young people in London but, as the film goes on, the base premise is opened up as each character has all manner of tragedy happen to them resulting in the film feeling far too busy as it spins towards a rather overblown conclusion. It's a shame because the people are quite interesting at the start but the script doesn't allow them to really develop as real people and so puts them in extreme lives and covers for the material's inability to really grip and involve by simply having it move very fast and always having something happen on screen. It is pacy enough to keep watching though and I'll say this for it I was never bored, but I also never really cared for the people or found myself involved in these lives.
The direction is pretty good though, using London quite well without becoming a tourist trade film. The atmosphere of lost lives is well put across and it keeps a downbeat tone even as the plot twists become decreasingly like any life I've ever lived! The music is pretty good though even if it will probably have dated pretty badly in about ten years time personally I quite liked the jazzy sort of jungle stuff and I like the vocalist even if she did turn it very poppy (which was the point I suppose).
The cast find themselves with good basic characters and are left with the challenge to keep them real people while their lives become increasingly exaggerated. Newman does well with his loss and makes it believable even if he has little time to put complex feelings across. Shepard is OK but his character is quite bland and it shows in his performance. I did feel a bit sorry for Waters, whose character goes the farthest and becomes rather silly and OTT by the end of the film. Ejiofor is pretty good and works well with a lot more time and dialogue than he was allowed in Love Actually (hasn't he put on a lot of weight by the way!) but it's a shame the same isn't offered to Smith who is only given a bump to carry around and little else.
Overall this is a reasonable British film but hardly any great shakes. It has pace and energy and it has tried to create an ensemble drama featuring 'real' lives but the emotion and drama is not as real as it thinks and involving stories are replaced by exaggeration as the film is unable to stop adding to it's drama. If it had been better written it could have rested on smaller events but as it isn't, it needs to keep moving for fear of stalling. In this regard it does keep moving and is never really boring but it isn't that good a film as a result but should please those who are easily won over by soapy dramas as the like.
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