Thursday 10 December 2020

Frank, incensed: "Silent Night"

Big news of the week: Frank Harper is back among us. The robust character actor - veteran of early Shane Meadows, Nick Love's The Football Factory and countless tuppence-ha'penny genre titles - has been recalled from his six-year sabbatical in the Costa del Somewhere-or-Other in order to take up a supporting position in Silent Night, writer-director Will Thorne's middling mash-up of Christmas movie and post-Rettendon geezers-with-guns crime runaround. Ideally, any such project would have cast Harper as a grumpy, profane Santa Claus of some form - but that would almost certainly have been too much to expect from a year as joyless as 2020. Instead, we rejoin him in the familiarly Harperian role of a small-time kingpin, gruffly making an offer best refused - a cash-in-hand hit job - to protagonist Mark (Bradley Taylor), a handyman and divorced dad struggling to raise the finances required to leave a present under his daughter's tree. Seasoned observers of these things might wonder whether it was such a good idea for Mark to appoint his blabbermouthing wild-card pal Alan (Cary Crankson, something of a Poundland Sean Harris) as his back-up.

I'll say this for Silent Night: it's almost heroically grey. Thorne appears to have scouted the most nondescript locations in the Sutton and Mitcham areas, with an eye to shooting on the most overcast days of the year. (Oh, Britain: where be your sunlit uplands now?) Rather than the misplaced swagger of so much bargain-bin fare, this lends Silent Night a shrugging ordinariness that very nearly qualifies as a considered aesthetic: leads called Mark and Alan, a body stashed in a council recycling bin. It's a poverty-row movie about people scratching ineffectually around the poverty line, which brings it closer than I was expecting to a breakout item like Paul Andrew Williams' London to Brighton. I think we might legitimately have "a bit more style" down on our viewing wishlist, to offset the film's ploddingly awkward banter, silly festive twists and inevitable last-reel pile-up of bodies. The best anyone can manage is a cheeky matchcut editor Craig Coole pulls off, carrying us from fingers being severed to an overview of great British bangers being enthusiastically carved up on a plate in a greasy spoon. The geezer doing the tucking in, perhaps guessably, is Harper, who does the bulk of his work here in Chinese restaurants and Wimpy booths: he may not have been especially well paid for his participation, but you can't say he wasn't well fed.

Silent Night opens tomorrow at the Genesis Cinema, London, ahead of its DVD release on December 28th.

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