Ben Drew, better known as rapper Plan B, has made a startling debut as a filmmaker, an ambitious, flawed, furiously impassioned state-of-inner-city-Britain drama that will have half its viewers gawping in shock and the rest nodding in recognition.
Gang violence, crack addiction, sex trafficking, and dog-eat-dog criminality are all stuffed into Ill Manors, which takes its title from Plan B’s song response to the riots of August 2011 and its circular narrative structure from Quentin Tarantino.
Set on the mean streets of East London, not far from the Olympic Park, this is a Forest Gate Pulp Fiction that follows a set of overlapping characters along an inexorable chain of crime and retribution.
A one-time drug lord gets out of prison and fatefully reignites old feuds. A drug dealer pimps out a crack-addicted prostitute to redeem a debt. A young boy beats up his best friend to gain admittance to a gang and quickly gets drawn into more lethal violence. A trafficking victim tries to escape her captors.
As someone from one plot strand runs into a figure from another, you have to go along with Drew’s way of telling his story, which is both deliberately contrived and surprisingly high-minded.
Cut through the grime and confusion to the choices the characters make and Ill Manors has the moral clarity of a medieval morality play: the good end well, the bad end badly. If that makes the film sounds pious, that’s far from the case. A fierce, visceral energy courses through the movie, pumped up by the searing fury of Plan B’s music and further boosted by the use of untrained newcomers alongside trained actors. Angry, scary, darkly comic and compassionate, Ill Manors is essential viewing.
On general release from Wednesday 6th June.
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