Saturday, 26 November 2016

From the archive: "Shifty"

Shifty comprises a snappy, promising debut from writer-director Eran Creevy. The eponymous hero (Riz Ahmed) used to be the cleverest kid in class; now he deals drugs out of his devout Muslim brother's house in the nondescript London suburb of Dudlowe. On the day we join him, he's accompanied on his rounds by best friend Chris (Daniel Mays), who's arrived from Manchester for a party happening that night. Chris has a mortgage, a career - he's going places, and wants nothing more than to take his mate with him - but within a few hours, he too is running from the police, and feeling the pressure of being dragged back down to where he started. 

There'll always be a place in the British film industry for directors who know how to shoot kitchens and bathrooms in interesting ways, and Creevy displays a sharp eye both for the detail of Shifty's domestic arrangements - the gleaming possessions bought with ill-gotten gains, row-upon-row of brand-new trainers - and for the drudgery of his fictional cul-de-sac of a location. Dead low, indeed: its inhabitants are most often observed giving into either infantile frustrations, like coked-up white van man Trevor (Jay Simpson), or a narcotic glaze, like the couple we see dopily inserting counters into a Connect 4 grid. (Putting away childish things would seem to be a remote possibility in this neck of the woods.)

If the above synopsis reads a little too close to standard-issue social realism, then fear not: there's spirit here, in the form of the leads' variously clipped, easy and droll banter. (I liked Chris's guide to keeping a cat: "Starve it for a week, and it'll eat a condom.") Maybe Creevy's a touch too keen, come the final reel, to explain himself and tidy up the plot's looser ends - a rookie mistake - but elsewhere he manages to conjure up a whole world (or at least a whole suburb) through the interactions of a small handful of characters, and works tiny but appreciable miracles with the relationship between the pensive, baleful Mays - the thinking viewer's Danny Dyer, surely - and the sharp, spiky Ahmed.

(April 2009)

Shifty screens on BBC1 tonight at 12.20am.

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