Comments on watching and making films.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

DVD - This Is England

Shane Meadows has crept into the consciousness of the American cinema goer like a wolf waiting to strike. For those of us who have been lucky enough to witness even one of his films, we are left feeling like we have witnessed the birth of something very special in the world of film and art. Including This Is England, I have only seen one other Meadows film, the amazing and beautiful revenge drama Dead Man's Shoe's, so, it may be safe to say that I am not the most qualified person to make the above statement, but, I feel like I can make it since, if Meadows simply keeps up that level of filmmaking, he will go down as one of the greats of world cinema, and a powerhouse of English cinema.

This Is England concerns the 1983 world of a young boy named Shaun, who's father has recently passed away in the Faulkland's war. He finds himself alone in a world that is imploding around him. His mother has no clue how to raise him alone, which leads him to act out when people make fun of him, or give him a hard time. One day, on a walk home, Shaun thinks he's picking a fight with a young (traditional) skinhead and his gang. When the skin, Woody, ends up diffusing the argument, Shaun realizes that Woody isn't interested in making fun of him, but, maybe, being his friend. He begins hanging out with a group of traditional skinheads (they differ from Nazi skinheads in that they are not rascists, nor are they, generally, violent), and these folks become his new family.

When one of Woody's old friends, Combo, is released from jail, though, it begins to slice a rift in the group. Combo is a proto-nazi skinhead, a "nationalist", who feels his hate towards the immigrant population is warranted because they are stealing jobs, housing, and "destroying the country". While Woody and much of the rest of the group want nothing to do with Combo, Shaun, young and still upset over the loss of his dad in a war that many felt was pointless, decides to channel his anger into Combo's cause.

This Is England is not just an incredible time capsule of a very interesting time in English history, it can also be seen as a statement on the current situation in the United States. Their are a lot of parallels in the film and what America is going through right now - a war that much of its population doesn't understand, tension about immigration, a disaffected youth culture, and leadership whose popularity is tanking more and more every moment of every day.

Meadows uses his camera to really explore the worlds of his characters, and with seemingly little or no production design, Meadows is able to pull out the very simple world of twenty plus years ago. Of course, with such an established sub-culture as the skins, you don' have to worry about clothes or looks, since they haven't really changed since the late 60's.

Thomas Turgoose gives an incredible performance for such a young kid, and is anchored by great actors, including Stephen Graham, who does an amazing job at portraying the emotional subtleties of the character Combo. Neither Meadows, nor Graham, allow Combo to simply be a one sided, hate-filled character. Meadows finds ways to show how Combo is capable of expressing intricate emotions, and Graham paints them on screen with the soft brush of a master.

If you've never seen Dead Man's Shoes, I wholeheartedly recommend it. This Is England is an incredible follow-up to that film, and, like I said before, if Meadows keeps this up, he will go down as an incredibly skilled artisan.

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