I watched Kidulthood recently, having put it off for a while. The reason? As I was approaching 30, I didn’t need a reminder that I was getting older, or that kids in London really did act like this. I knew they did, I just didn’t want to acknowledge it. Ignorance is bliss, right? Now, living in Hackney where scenes from both films were shot, I realised I couldn’t bury my head in the sand any longer. Kidulthood impressed me with its unflinching realism, and as is the norm these days – you finish a book, then find out someone has just made it into a film – rumours of a sequel spread and posters for Adulthood started to emerge on the Tube.
“Previously on Kidulthood” is how Adulthood begins, flashbacks providing brief glimpses as to how the first film ends. Young Trife is dead, killed by older thug Sam during a fight. Sam is released from prison after serving 6 years. Back on the streets of London, it isn’t long before he is involved in an altercation – it seems people have not forgotten the crime Sam committed, regardless of whether he meant to do it or not. He stumbles home – no one is there. Gradually he makes contact with old acquaintances, but they have all moved on and want little to do with him. Sam visits Claire, his ex-girlfriend, and receives a kicking from Claire’s new boyfriend Hayden (Danny Dyer) for his mistreatment of her. In what is essentially a cameo role from Dyer, he stands head and shoulders above the rest of the young cast. This scene is one of the highlights of the film, albeit too brief.
Trife’s best friend J has progressed to street dealer level. He commands a certain amount of respect and a little fear, but he’s not a major player. In an absolutely ridiculous scene, he humiliates a geeky white customer and his girlfriend when the customer almost gets him busted by ‘the Feds’. J hears that Sam has been released, and pays for Sam to get murked. J’s hatred for Sam has not dwindled over the years, and he wants him to pay the ultimate price. Sam wants nothing to do with revenge, but the hit has been arranged, pushing family loyalties to the test.
My first impressions from Adulthood is that director/star Noel Clarke was being supremely self indulgent. I forget the amount of times I have watched a movie, wishing I was the director in charge of everything, with the ability to cast myself as the lead, making every shot of myself all mean and moody. This is Clarke’s debut as director, and it shows. Neither his presence nor the character he plays is strong enough for the focus he puts on Sam. His script is on-point: Clarke has captured street slang used today very well. Some may struggle with the patois though. Many of the exchanges between central characters are well played and realistic, but the characters themselves are not well fleshed out, and it is a little hard to work out who’s who at the beginning. Scarlett Johnson (Vicky from Eastenders) performs well, capturing the posture and tone of feisty young girls in London. You may find her tone and language annoying. That’s because it is. Young girls round here really do talk like that. Believe me.
Clarke is obviously a film fan. Hulk-like angled split screens cut away too quickly. I love split screens and freeze-frames – I think if a director is ballsy enough to use them then he should be applauded. They seemed less effective on this occasion. When the hunted and his nemesis clock each other for the first time, a freeze-frame shot is put to good effect. It’s just that Adulthood plays like a homage to Clarke’s favourite directors. The scene in the graveyard when Sam overcomes and stamps on his assailant is lifted straight from Goodfellas. The shot is exactly like that of Jimmy Conway (Robert DeNiro) stamping repeatedly on made guy Billy Batts’ face in the bar. Trust me, you know that scene, and I guarantee you’ll make the connection.
The movie references don’t stop there. Tarantino, Scorsese, Paul Thomas Anderson, John Woo and even the Wachowski brothers all get the homage treatment. In a scene similar to Anderson’s Magnolia, the main characters are shown in a cut sequence, with Lexi (Johnson) doing lines of coke off a table, sat on a sofa like Melora Walter’s character in the aforementioned film. It’s a scene meant to communicate the dissatisfaction and confusion she feels regarding her life. Effective, but it’s been done before. The worst example in my opinion is when J and Sam have their stand-off. I say stand off as the shot implies Clarke wanted to emulate his heroes Quentin Tarantino and John Woo. A slow motion circling shot shows Sam holding a baseball bat to J’s throat samurai sword style, while J has his gun pointed at Sam. He might have thought it would look good, but it just feels like an out of place imitation. A gun verses a bat anyway? Come on!
Adam Deacon cuts a mean figure as J, and rapper Plan B (as Ben Drew, in his debut) has a lot of fun and convinces in the role of the wannabe gangster recruited for the hit. Having Sam as the lead character was a strange choice in my opinion, but director Clarke does not want us to feel sympathy for him. Flashback scenes to his time in prison are effective in showing the man he has become.
I’m glad films like Adulthood are being made, but this example has little or no substance. The characters are not fleshed out enough. I will applaud Clarke for never once glamorising his subject matter, as the issue of ‘fallen soldiers’ succumbing to knife and gun crime in London could not be more prevalent than in 2008. I know what Clarke was going for – I would love to emulate my favourite directors – but here is seems obvious and cynical. The thing is, I have it on very good authority that this film is unrealistic. That’s what the street says, but don’t think about asking me to reveal my sources. Ya get me blood?!
© Robin Maxwell - SpittinFlicks