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New Release Review - Anti-Social

A graffiti artist becomes embroiled in his brother's criminal activities.


Review by Benjamin Poole

Directed by: Reg Traviss

Starring: Gregg Sulkin, Meghan Markle, Josh Myers, Sophie Colquhoun




"If the geezer-heist sub genre is a lock-stock-and-cock-of-the-Lambeth-walk-landscape, then Anti-Social is the Canary Wharf of this urban panorama. It’s the Avocado. It’s the Shard; a shining example of the genre, towering above all else, and casting a pretty big shadow over lesser entries in the canon."




The dramatic intensity of a criminal heist is perfectly suited to the medium of cinema, and, indeed, the process of film making has much in common with the pulling off of a heist. Like the cast of a film, a felonious crew must have a carefully assembled group of characters, each contributing some unique aspect to the job. Both endeavours need to be planned to precision, either following a script or a carefully systemised scheme with rehearsed accuracy. Then there’s the concise performance of the execution; the timing, the blocking, the presentation. So, with film-making and capers having so much in common, it is no wonder that the silver screen is so bullet riddled with examples of the sub-genre; from the easy glamour of Ocean’s 11, to the door-blowing blunders of The Italian Job, along to the post-pilferage pressure cooker of Reservoir Dogs, the heist is a staple situation of the form (and, in fact, recent announcements suggest that even the Star Wars spin-off Rogue One is to follow the template too…)
From a purely practical standpoint, the heist movie- with its entailment of only a few locations and a concentrated cast- also presents thrifty opportunity for the low budget film maker. Maybe this is the reason why there are so many fugazi heist films to go along with the genuine diamonds; the supposed simplicity of the genre is overestimated, and heist films seem like an easy blag. Certainly, the caper seems to be the go-to situ for British crime dramas, like case in point Anti-Social, a film seemingly marketed as yet another geezer-crime-heist flick, in a cinema landscape already overpopulated with botched jobs, gurning cockneys and misplaced honour. Can it deliver the goods?
Dee (an estuary Andrew Garfield-a-like Gregg Sulkin) is a street artist in the mold of Banksy; bombing North London public property with politically motivated, striking graffiti, and highly respected by his peers (including the ace Adrew Shim as Jason). Unlike posh boy Banksy though, Dee is the real deal; living on a council estate with his sweet but pot addled mum, and his big bruv Marcus (Josh Myers). Marcus is also a criminal, although his delinquency extends far further than beauteous acts of vandalism, as Marcus is in fact an armed robber, audaciously doing over jewellery stores about the city with his outlaw gang of motor bikers. Unlike Dee, Marcus is spurred by an entrenched gang culture, not anarchy; 'I don’t want society brought down, otherwise there would be nothing for me to go and blag,' he cheerfully explains to his younger kinsman. Head hunted for his talents by an artsy big wig though, Dee looks set to make the big time; but will blood prove to be thicker than spray paint when one of Marcus’ scams goes all Pete Tong?
If the geezer-heist sub genre is a lock-stock-and-cock-of-the-Lambeth-walk-landscape, then Anti-Social is the Canary Wharf of this urban panorama. It’s the Avocado. It’s the Shard; a shining example of the genre, towering above all else, and casting a pretty big shadow over lesser entries in the canon. A crucial difference that Anti-Social has in comparison to other films of this ilk is the amount of care, detail and attention that director Reg Traviss affords his plot and characters. Graffiti artist Dee isn’t just some kid with a token spray can and a rucksack that he hides under his bed, but a convincing pro, with a rack of aerosols and stencils that we see him painstakingly cut by hand. The relationships between characters are also developed with an analogous precision, allowing us to become slowly, inexorably drawn in to Dee and Marcus’ predicament. The world building in Anti-Social is as rich and vividly intricate as one of Dee’s chromatic rollers (which, credit where due, were created by real life artist snub23), fashioning a necessary authenticity which compels its shifting, complex plot.
Anti-Social’s London feels real too: a multi-cultural, multi-class metropolitan where a graffiti writing kid can rub shoulders with models and the art haut monde, while his brother knocks off a corner shop down the road. This is Traviss’ fourth feature, and his assuredness shows in the managed balance of the brother’s intertwined lives, in the bravura set pieces of the robberies (the opening theft, with motorbikes in the shopping mall, is impressive) and in the slow, suspenseful burn of the pacing.
In the spirit of equivocation, however, there is the film’s awful title, a designation which is tawdry, suggestive of immaturity and, to this reviewer, entirely unrelated to the themes/plot of the film, which exemplify the blood bond between the brothers, and also the macho honour-community of gangs/taggers. There is a lovely moment when, upon painting a ‘heavenly spot’, Dee and Jason encounter a group of rivals; the boys agreeably bump fists and promise each other to keep out an eye for the Old Bill. If anything, the film is about the social bonds that develop in working class subcultures.
Anti-Social’s attitude towards its ne’er do wells is also refreshing; Traviss doesn’t judge, or (in the tiresome manner of lesser British crime flicks) glamorise his characters, he simply tells the story, allowing us to come to our own conclusions. And what a riveting story Anti-Social is. It is difficult to remember being this impressed with a British crime drama; a cursory look through TMW’s archive will attest that I have seen enough, and that all too often these films rely on sub-EastEnders stereotypes and assume their audience as easily pleased simpletons. Not so with Anti-Social, which, unlike a couple of Marcus’ failed ‘touches’, is urban crime drama at its most captivating and cinematic.




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