Idris Elba has directed before; he directed two episodes of Sky’s anthology series Playhouse Presents. One of the episodes was the very sweet King For A Term which was set in 1980s Hackney. Elba returns to the setting, along with 1970s Kinston, Jamaica, for this – his directorial debut. The end result isn’t particularly bad, nor is it particularly impressive. Disappointing might be the right way of putting it. Tonally uneven, too slow at some points and too speedy at others; it makes for an okay, if rather forgettable watch.
His name is D. D for Dennis. Since Dennis Campbell (Ameen) watched his brother Jerry (Creary) be shot to death at a party advocating peace between the two gangs fighting for control of Kingston, a party that they’d set up together, he’s been driven for retribution. Jerry was his only living relative, after his death Dennis found himself joining one of the gangs – the gang that ‘won’ – and embracing a criminal life whilst trying to find the then-boy, now-man, who killed his beloved older brother. After causing trouble, Dennis is sent to London but quickly falls into conflict with a vicious gangster, Nico (Graham), who controls Hackney. Dennis soon finds himself fighting for his own life, and the lives of his childhood sweetheart Yvonne (Jackson) and their daughter.
We spend 10 years with Dennis, in the space of 101 minutes. Voiceover narration from Dennis is present throughout, mostly at the beginning then intermittently throughout. The end result is grating and mildly frustrating, mainly as it’s continuous exposition as opposed to anything with much insight. It constantly tells us what is going on as opposed to showing us or letting us discover it. It is most likely nor due to a lack of faith in viewers being able to work out what is going on; it’s most probably due to the want to link the sequences of events together. That’s because the film is less as a continuous and ongoing story, and more of a series of misfortunate events that are so episodic you can’t help but think the material would have been better served as a tv mini-series rather than a feature length picture.
Eah occurrence is accompanied by Dennis informing us how he feels about it, but we never really believe it or share that feeling. He tells us that it’s the too-soon death of his brother, but this intensity is never fully developed nor do we really get to know him. He remains a one dimensional figure, through construction and direction as opposed to performance. There’s on moment when he really sparkles with intensity, when his family’s lives are truly on the line. Ameen is aflame with fear, for them and himself, concern and rage. It’s a moment that is over too soon.
The film drifts along with continuous violence, casualties and deaths. Often they feel needless and reasonless; this feels less of a stylistic choice but a consequence of lack of character development. Whilst these scenes are relatively well composed, nicely lit with setting and costume allowing for an atmospheric capturing of the period, they, like the film as a whole, feel more style than substance.
With predictable twists and turns, a vanilla cinematic style and a plot that feels too familiar, Yardie is a film that is less of a scrappy underdog but more a posturing wannabe.
Dir: Idris Elba
Scr: Victor Headley (novel), Brock Norman Brock, Martin Stellman
Cast: Aml Ameen, Stephen Graham, Shantol Jackson, Everaldo Creary, Calvin Demba
Prd: Gina Carter, Robin Gutch
DOP: John Conroy
Music: Dickon Hinchliffe
Run time: 101 minutes
Yardie is in UK cinemas from August 31st.