Friday 17 May 2019

"Beats" (Guardian 17/05/19)

Beats ***
Dir: Brian Welsh. With: Cristian Ortega, Lorn Macdonald, Laura Fraser, Stephen McCole. 101 mins. Cert: 18

Back in 1999, that Britfilm upstart Human Traffic – born of the same creative big bang that begat both Trainspotting and Kevin and Perry Go Large – caught the tail end of rave culture. Two decades on, Beats offers a more considered return to the same scene, composed by cooler, wiser heads in artful silvery-greys, with contextualising clips of Tony Blair outlining his vision for a new Britain, after which it all plainly went a bit Pete Tong. Nostalgic flashbacks are guaranteed for a certain demographic, but the delivery system struggles to overcome a curious absence of the era’s biggest beats (were there licensing issues?) and some perversely cramped framing. For a good while, writer Kieran Hurley (adapting his 2012 play) and director Brian Welsh seem determined to fashion kitchen-sink drama from one of the most outdoorsy of youth phenomena.

One limitation is that the film’s energies are almost exclusively focused on a cosily familiar odd-couple bromance. We join cowed middle-class hero Johnno (Cristian Ortega) as he and his nervy mother Alison (Laura Fraser) are being installed in a newbuild home-slash-prison on the outskirts of an unidentified Scots town by a policeman stepfather (Brian Ferguson), in part to keep the lad away from his wayward dafty pal Spanner (Lorn Macdonald). The scenes in which these two naïfs fall in with an underwritten older crowd remain stubbornly theatrical, stranding us amid abandoned warehouses and damp toilet blocks; Welsh, who made 2010’s appreciably Loachian In Our Name, is setting a particular, unpromising scene here, but for at least half its running time, Beats is all oppression, no euphoria.

We finally get somewhere with the pair’s escape to the rave of their dreams, but Hurley’s thesis that all external tensions were forgotten about on the dancefloor, while historically verifiable, isn’t the smartest line for a movie to hold to: an already somewhat shambling romp slackens around its middle, and it requires armed police to break up the blissed-out imagery and give Hurley some kind of ending. A handful of transient highs remain – not least the fading memories preserved in Benjamin Kracun’s cinematography and Ortega’s doleful resting face, Welsh’s most reliable sight gag – but it’s more amiable than funny or especially persuasive. Set them against Mia Hansen-Løve’s resonant French house drama Eden or our own Michael Winterbottom’s kaleidoscopic 24 Hour Party People, and these beats sound ever so slightly tinny. 

Beats opens in selected cinemas from today.

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