The Movie Waffler New Release Review - The Selfish Giant | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review - The Selfish Giant

Two young boys from a disadvantaged area of Bradford are seduced by the scrap iron trade.

Directed by: Clio Barnard
Starring: Conner Chapman, Shaun Thomas, Sean Gilder

Arbor (Chapman) and Swifty (Thomas) are two young boys living in squalor in a tough part of Bradford. Arbor suffers from hyperactivity, flying into fits of rage when not medicated, while Swifty is a quiet, sensitive boy, happiest when around the various horses that populate the fields around their rundown council estate. When Arbor defends Swifty from a bunch of bullying boys, both young men find themselves kicked out of school. Upon learning of the value of copper cable in the scrap trade, the boys set about working for local scrap dealer Kitten (Gilder), a Fagan type who is all too happy to exploit the young boys' thievery skills.
Low budget British cinema generally assumes two guises; wannabe American genre efforts (usually gangster or horror movies) and gritty social realist dramas. The former usually bears unwatchable results, failing to compete with the American movies they imitate. The latter is a type of film that nobody does as well as the Brits and accounts for a huge percentage of any list of great British films. What's always noticeable is just how easy they make this sort of film-making look. These films have resulted in some of the most naturalistic performances ever captured, all the more remarkable when you take into account how often they feature untrained, amateur actors and heavy improvisation.
'The Selfish Giant' is yet another product of the "It's grim oop North" school of film-making and though it's cliched in its themes and doesn't present much we haven't seen before, it's, for most of its running time, thoroughly gripping.
Chapman and Thomas are a pair of boys discovered by writer-director Barnard while shooting her previous film, documentary 'The Arbor'. Their performances are so incredibly natural it makes something of a mockery of the craft of film acting. They behave like children acting like adults, unlike professional child actors, who generally do the opposite.
Barnard doesn't opt for any easy sentimentality. Her protagonist, Arbor, is hard to warm to. We see him do some pretty despicable things but at the same time we understand his motivations. A scene where he comforts his long suffering mother with a passionate embrace is one of the most moving moments of the year.
Loosely influenced by the Oscar Wilde children's story of the same name, 'The Selfish Giant' goes off the rails in its final act, relying on an all too predictable turn of events. It's a shame Barnard couldn't give us a more satisfying ending as up to that point her film is both charming and distressing in equal measure.

Eric Hillis