Friday, February 15, 2008


...and it's a shithole.

My late father went to London one time on a business trip, and when I asked him what it was like, he said "It's like something you'd wanna burn down and start over." I've never been what you'd call an Anglophile, and this movie, which is great, does a lot to reinforce my prejudices against England and its people. I highly recommend it.

Basically, it's the story of Sean, an 11-year-old boy whose father is killed in the Falklands war immediately prior to the story beginning (it's set in '83). Seeking positive male reinforcement and a general sense of place in the world, he runs a cross a smart, funny, sympathetic older skinhead kid named Woody - who kinda looks like Woody from Toy Story, and who takes him under his wing and lets him hang around with the older kids. Soon enough, he's shaved his head and is wearing a Fred Perry shirt (bought for him by his new buddies) and boots. These are non-racist skinheads, though; one of them's Jamaican. So it's all lunkheaded teenage boys-on-the-loose fun, with Sean tagging along and even sort of keeping up.

But then Gumbo, one of Woody's friends, comes back from three years in prison. He's a racist (though he calls himself a nationalist - as in Front - at first) and a psycho, and he splits the group by demanding that they take sides on whether they're "truly English" or not. Woody and a few others, the Jamaican kid included, bail, but Sean sticks around. Soon enough he's attending National Front meetings with his new father figure, spray-painting racist slogans on walls, and threatening a Pakistani shopkeeper who gave him a hard time earlier in the film.

The movie goes wrong in a way that's both predictable and shocking. Predictable because a gun that's brandished in Act 1 must be fired in Act 3, and shocking because of the way it's filmed and acted by the principals. Gumbo's psychosis is revealed as far deeper and more omnidirectional than we've been led to expect, but more importantly, Sean is shown to be not entirely a nice kid led astray by thugs preying on his vulnerabilities. He's actually kind of a shit, and the actor playing the part's resemblance to a cross between young Jimmy Corrigan and middle-aged Jimmy Corrigan really helps him sell the inner ugliness.

But the real ugliness of the film is external - I sort of thought its title was a reference to the Clash song (the not-that-bad-really single from their post-Mick Jones album Cut The Crap), but when it was over I took it as a simple declarative statement of fact by the director. This is England. This is who we are. Lager louts, racists, scuzzy-looking women, all living in shitty apartments and eating garbage.

Check it out.

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