Thursday 5 November 2020

On the skids: "Looted"

Underemployed by the British film industry since his breakthrough showing in Shane Meadows' This is England, Thomas Turgoose reappears with a spiv's moustache and serious anger-management issues in Rene van Pannevis' Looted, the latest offering from Film London's Microwave scheme that last month gave us the very striking Body of Water. Initially, we seem to be in the more conventional terrain of the urban crime drama, tailing a gang of delinquents (Turgoose included, natch) though a series of low-level car thefts in the Hartlepool area. A turn for the domestic follows, however, the camera following gang leader Rob (Charley Palmer Rothwell) back to the home where he's been left to care for a father dying of mesothelioma (Tom Fisher). I fear thrillseekers lured in by that false start, and its promise of high-octane carjacking activity - something akin to Paul W.S. Anderson's high-profile Nineties bomb Shopping - will be very disappointed very quickly by what comes to pass. What Looted actually proves to be is a character study of a young man who's taken too much on (that unpaid care work, a raid on a dockside storage facility that - in the tradition of the best-laid-plans movie - goes disastrously wrong) and is now struggling to navigate a transitional moment. The basics were there in van Pannevis's inspiration: his own 2015 short Jacked, again with Palmer Rothwell and Turgoose in the leads, but you may not have seen that. Here, you get to witness a short's worth of story strung out over ninety minutes. It's a film equipped with the wrong kind of spinning wheels.

For a while, that early right turn out of generic territory works to van Pannevis's benefit, because he's faced with a biggish problem: he never quite gets the gang right. Palmer Rothwell gives a capable account of himself, bonding well with both Toms, but he's far too groomed and upright to in any way convince as a potential career criminal; the same goes for Morgane Polanski, daughter of Roman and Emmanuelle Seigner, as the Polish girl who tags along for a ride. Observing the rub-on tattoos and clip-on piercings that have been applied to make up for a lack of authentic life experience, we are once again obliged to lament the British cinema's failure to nurture working-class performers: as it is, Grimsby lad Turgoose acts everybody else off the screen, including a fourth gang member who appears in the first scene (a relic of the short, maybe?) before disappearing into thin air. Having taken that turn, Looted ends up marooned. This is one of those debuts that falls somewhere between honorably patient - endeavouring to establish Rob's domestic woes before laying down anything in the way of narrative intrigue - and far too tentative for its own good. It takes an hour for these characters to progress from tepid to hot water, and van Pannevis admits as much by putting a scene from around that mark upfront. There will be action!, he's saying. Please stick with it! There is some good stuff in that final third, and promising elements scattered throughout, but everything's been undermined by that structural deficiency, the failure to find a solution to the puzzle of converting a short into a feature. If Looted does finally send us away with a sense of lives backed into a dead end, it does so more by meandering accident than by forceful directorial design.

Looted is available to stream from tomorrow.

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