August 8th, 2012
Director: Ron Scalpello, UK, 2012, Run time: 102 mins
Cast: Joe Cole, English Frank and Kimberley Nixon
Review by Dan Collacott
First time director Ron Scalpello’s Offender puts the spotlight on a society out of touch with it’s youth, whilst providing a modern day nod to Ray Winstone’s borstal classic Scum. (warning mild spoilers ahead)
A group of hardened former youth offenders take advantage of the London riots to carry out a smash and grab motorcycle raid on a jewellery store. The robbery takes a sinister turn when gang leader Jake (English Frank) fatally shoots the shop owner. They stash the bikes and loot, but are later arrested for driving a stolen car. The gang manages to avoid taking the rap for the murder and theft, but panic when their young probation officer, Elise (Kimberley Nixon) spots that Jake is wearing a rare Rolex connected to the robbery.
Elise is also the pregnant and adored girlfriend of hard working and big-hearted, youth Tommy (Joe Cole). Tommy arrives to meet her from work, only to find she has been badly beaten by one of the gang, in a brutal bid to ensure her silence. Elise loses her child and their relationship crumbles under the weight of the resulting grief. This cruel loss kicks off a gritty tale of murderous revenge as Tommy purposely gets himself incarcerated in order to find the person who attacked Elise and bring justice to the gang who ruined their lives.
Hollyoaks in prison this isn’t, there is plenty of violence, drugs and corruption in this gritty depiction of life in a youth borstal. The characters seem slightly cartoonish and cliché at first, but as the violence ramps up so does the acting. Joe Cole excels as the cold unflappable youth, Tommy. Woefully out of his depth yet driven blindly by the need for revenge. English Frank is compelling as the loathsome, meat headed thug gang leader, Jake. He and his gang represent the failure of the penal system, as they kangaroo between crime and incarceration without fear of either. An honorable mention must also go to the brilliant Shaun Dooley as the corrupted, bitter pot smoking head warden Nash.
The moral compass for this movie is a little skewed, it deals with so many difficult subjects without really deciding which it wants to focus on. It successfully shines a light on modern youth culture, providing a violent depiction of a disaffected generation with the riots as a backdrop. How much of the insight into life in the prison is realistic or sensationalised is difficult to pin down. Thankfully there is no obvious moral epiphany for Tommy or path to redemption for any of the characters in Offender and this fact alone keeps the drama believable and the revenge dark and uncompromising.
Some of the peripheral characters and plotting are a bit lightweight at times, for example I wanted more scenes and back story from Tommy's cell mate Harry (Malachi Kirby). Thankfully Offender is well acted and hard hitting enough to paper over its flaws, even though it probably isn't as shocking and violent as previous prison dramas.
The professional production by Nick Taussag (Shank), superb cinematography and tight dialogue elevates Offender well above the rank of your average indie Brit movie. On the whole as long as you try not to over analyse the film's wider message and concentrate on the central revenge plot thread itself, you won't be disappointed.