Friday 22 November 2019

"Blue Story" (Guardian 22/11/19)

Blue Story ***
Dir: Rapman. With: Stephen Odubola, Micheal Ward, Khali Best, Karla-Simone Spence. 91 mins. Cert: 15

YouTube hasn’t been the happiest breeding ground for cinematic talent, as those of us still processing the traumas of 2010’s Fred: The Movie will attest. This much-hyped inner-city drama – the debut of Deptford-born Rapman, a.k.a. Andrew Onwubolu, whose webseries Shiro’s Story closed in on ten million hits last year – is at once more encouraging: an assured, capably performed morality play, it’s easily the best of its type since 2012’s My Brother the Devil.

Tackling an especially vicious outbreak of gang violence on the border separating Peckham and Lewisham, Onwubolu ports across many of the elements that made his online endeavours such a success, chiefly a sure feel for the rat runs of South East London, and a rapped on-camera narration from the writer-director himself.

This last is where Blue Story feels most innovative, elevating a fairly stock melodrama – centred on childhood pals Tim and Marco (Stephen Odubola and Micheal Ward), set in fatal conflict by their older brothers’ affiliations – into unapologetically, exhilaratingly musical territory. (Turn the dial, and we’re not too far from Greek tragedy, or Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet.)

The device is at least as dynamic as the scuffling, which erupts out of nothingy Tuesday afternoons, or indeed Onwubolu’s sometimes lurching narrative. A “three years later” card placed at the halfway mark allows for closer scrutiny of the consequences of street violence, whereupon Odubola – pick of the film’s promising new faces – reinvents the boyishly likable Tim as a brooding, hoodied avenger.

If there’s a limitation, it may be in a modesty of means and spirit you possibly wouldn’t expect from a filmmaker newly signed to Jay-Z’s Roc Nation label: I found myself wanting more narration yet, and it’s a headscrambler to see a Paramount Pictures production with scenes that take place outside a Greggs.

That, at least, is true to the way Onwubolu swears off the usual flash and posturing in favour of a careful, rooted storytelling, forever finding subtly differentiated perspectives on gang life, and offering his characters as many ways out as there are ways in. Even an apparently throwaway Game of Thrones reference serves as a comment on houses divided and turned against themselves to no good ends. 

Blue Story opens in cinemas nationwide today.

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