So last week, the directional debut of singer/rapper Ben Drew, better known as Plan B, hit the big screen. Set in East London the multi-layered crime drama follows the lives of six different characters whose crazy complex paths cross over a few days, Crash (2004 film) style.
In his own words, Drew has said that his reason for making this film is “to show that there is a lot we can learn when we know all the facts; when we explain the ‘why’ – not just the ‘what’ and ‘how’” and that “this film is a chance for me to delve into the roots of these problems and show the public things that they may not have known, where these problems start, the domino effect that they have within people’s lives and how we get to the gory end results that we end up reading about in the papers.”
To a fair extent, he did manage to achieve this, but not to the level that many early reviews and all the hype led me to believe. After actually seeing the movie myself I would say that rather than providing ground breaking social commentary, iLL Manors did a better job in the way that it presented the issues it was trying to highlight.
Creatively, the film introduced elements not commonly used in similar themed British movies (that I have seen and can remember). The introduction and opening stop motion sequence for example was visually stunning and really drew me in, making me want to sit up and take notice. Also, the use of camera phone and CCTV type footage gave numerous scenes that may have otherwise gone unnoticed, an interesting alternative angle and edge. One of the main highlights in my opinion however, was Plan B’s inclusion of rap verses as part of his narration. Shedding light on the history of many of the characters, the addition of these bars as part of the script was a very effective way of concisely describing the unfortunate back stories of each character and was definitely one of the stand-out features of the film. To my recollection though, this was all that was done to attempt to explain “the why” and if you weren’t paying full attention or don’t have an ear for that kind of sound, you could have easily missed it.
Further to this and somewhat contrary to the tagline, iLL Manors seemed to promote the viewpoint that regardless of our situations and how we were raised, we all have a choice. While I agree wholeheartedly that we indeed do have free will and the capability to make our own decisions, I also feel that it is presumptive and maybe even a little too optimistic to suggest that all it would take in order to better your situation, would be to simply recognise that you can make the morally ‘right’ decision before actually doing so because just as bad decisions have consequences, good ones often do too, and they may not necessarily be any easier to deal with in the short term, no matter how honourable or righteous your intentions when making them. Apart from this slightly sometimes conservative tone of the film, which gave me pause and could also be seen in the positive portrayal of the police force for example, Drew really managed to capture genuine dilemmas that many people face and the issues surrounding them, thoughtfully.
There were quite a few humorous moments (one in particular to do with the pronunciation of ‘bicarbonate of soda’!) but on the whole, the movie had a very urgent, dark and intense vibe, with a lot of focus given to how the institutionalisation of children within the care system often negatively pans out. While this is of course, a very real problem, a lot of people have mentioned that Drew over dramatised “the hood” and that there is in fact a lot more fun, warmth, love and good than the film and it’s characters would lead you to believe. However, maybe Drew felt that if he lightened the mood too much, the central message he wanted to get across would have gotten lost. Arguably though, in a movie that obviously communicates the importance of upbringing whilst being heavily marketed as offering an honest and true to life representation, some sort of positivity, through the portrayal of strong female role models perhaps, who do have a great presence within these communities, would have been nice to see. After all, not all of the women living in inner city estates are crackwhores and prostitutes but hard-working single mothers, aunties and grandmothers too, who are trying their utmost to keep their children on the straight and narrow. Admittedly, they may not be succeeding in doing so but a lot of them are in fact, there and trying, and a representation in the movie of these often forgotten champions, no matter how small, would have gone a long way to ensure that the story was a little more balanced.
All of that said, iLL Manors did retain a kind of natural flow to it. The language used felt real enough and didn’t seem overdone or exaggerated at all and most notably Drew carefully presented the troubles surrounding drugs, violence and prostitution as being a class issue and not solely a race one; a factor I appreciated greatly as it annoys me how certain ethnic groups are all too often negatively typecast in these kinds of films, when the matters being discussed are just as much, if not more so, to do with social economic standing than just race alone.
Social commentary observations aside, iLL Manors is a very entertaining movie that has been directed beautifully and features some proper solid performances from new faces like Lee Allen, Ed Skrein, Elouise Valentine Smyth, that I certainly hope to see again.
Ben Drew has always been good at telling stories through his music and with iLL Manors has now proved that his talents extend to the silver screen too. Bottom line, I recommend you go see this movie, it’s gritty, thought-provoking and exciting; you won’t be able to sit still while watching it and once you have, will find yourself giving the side eye to the man behind the counter at the chicken shop!
Released: 6th June 2012
My Rating: 3.5/5
You can catch iLL Manors in cinemas nationwide (Odeon, Vue or Cineworld). The Ritzy in Brixton is running a special screening this Saturday (16 June 2012) with a Q&A session with Riz Ahmed, who plays the role of Aaron in the film.