The prognosis is negative for Ill Manors
Ill Manors, the brain-child of musician Ben Drew (aka Plan B, here wearing his writer/director hat), is quickly described as “where dark shit goes on at night”. Indeed, the tone gets no lighter as the gang drama set in eastLondon’s Forest Gate unfolds in the midst of copious amounts of profanity, drug use and sexual abuse. Drew’s debut may be many things, but a date movie it most certainly is not.
The film wastes no time in getting down and gritty with time-lapse photography being used to illustrate the daily routines of junkies and dealers. A variety of characters are introduced, the film often breaking to tell their backstories via rap as the lyrics are dramatised onscreen. This is not altogether a bad idea, even if the verses fly a bit too quickly for some of the less “street” amongst the viewers, but the use of it in Ill Manors is inconsistent, as the style occurs a few times early on but then disappears before resurfacing in the final act. If there’s anything that defines Drew’s film, it’s the unevenness that is as plentiful as the expletives. As a writer, Drew may have had a lot of good ideas as to where to take the story, but what he has yet to learn is that he doesn’t need to try to shoe-horn them all into one work. It’s this rookie mistake that eventually brings down Ill Manors after a strong start.
Riz Ahemd’s sensible-by-comparison Aaron plays the right-hand man of drug-dealer Ed (Ed Skrein). The idea is that the two were raised in a home for boys together and their career paths are a direct result. Absent and poor role models are a theme of sorts here, but the message becomes swamped in an erratic narrative full of melodrama. In the film’s second act, the linear nature of the story suddenly becomes a confusing affair, as the clocks turn back to follow the progress of other characters. Drew’s pacing makes matters worse, as the film peaks far too early with major climaxes occurring before the final act actually kicks in, bringing with it the introduction of new characters and further drama. It’s messy and chaotic, and while it can be innovative or daring to deviate from standard story-telling structures, the impression made by Ill Manors is of a film-maker who has little idea how to get from point A to point B without stopping by points M, D and Z first.
Amongst the performances, Ahmed’s stands out as the only likeable character of the bunch. Anouska Mond gives a strong effort as an exploited, crack-addicted prostitute whilst the rest of the cast is immersed in aggressive, foul-mouthed street-talk. None of it is especially appealing, but that is the point. It’s an interesting, if sloppy, look at the real effects the lifestyles Ill Manors depicts. The shame is that Drew fails to bring it all together in a cohesive manner. The film’s first hour flows well enough, but becomes totally unhinged beyond that point with additional characters and plot strands that feel like overkill.
Ill Manors is not a bad debut from a writer/director lacking a serious cinematic background, but that inexperience is severely reflected in the end product. Grim and profane, it’s unlikely that many will be eager to view Ill Manors repeatedly, but if the subject matter appeals, it’s worth giving Drew the benefit of the doubt, at least for the initial 60 minutes. Despite its optimistic close, Ill Manors is a crushingly bleak affair. It’s advisable to have something uplifting ready as a chaser to this account of urban moral decay. These Manors show little chance of improving. 6.5/10