Director: Simon Blake
Major Players: Aidan Gillen, Jonathan Slinger, Amanda Mealing
Out Of Five: 4
Two faces of London are on show at the cinema this week. The slick, gleaming version is splashed across just about every screen going in Spooks:The Greater Good. But its more unsettling, threatening face also gets an outing – admittedly in fewer cinemas – in Simon Blake’s urban thriller, Still. The tourism industry will be happy with the first, but film lovers should make sure of seeing the second.
Set in the shadow of St Pancras, where gentrified Victorian roads live uneasily next to run down estates, it focuses on photographer Tom (Aidan Gillen). He and his ex-partner Rachel (Casualty and Holby City’s Amanda Mealing) are trying to get over the death of their son in a car accident. A chance encounter between Tom and a local teenager escalates into increasingly vicious feud with the boy’s gang – until Tom decides to take matters into his own hands.
This is Simon Blake’s first feature film, both as director and writer, and it’s an impressively powerful piece of work. The script gives the cast plenty to chew on and the performances are universally good. With one exception. And that’s Gillen. He gives a scorching performance, full of complexity, intensity and energy, sometimes coiled, sometimes letting rip. He super-glues you to the screen as he loses his grip on life.
Visually, the film’s characterised by Andy Parsons’ clean, unfussy photography. Even when he does something a little bit more off piste – a drink and cocaine binge by Tom and his best mate, the hack Ed (Jonathan Slinger) makes Tom see double and the words he hears from his friend become increasingly slurred – the basic idea is uncomplicated and all the more effective for it. And the brisk editing follows suit: just watch as a fireworks display switches to the final confrontation between Tom and his tormentor.
The film isn’t just about the death of Tom’s son, though. The murder of another teenage boy, stabbed at a football match on the housing estate, runs in parallel and weaves its way throughout the film. It also attempts to open up a debate about parenthood and how to deal with young offenders, but doesn’t offer much of an answer to either. What it does do is point to the likelihood that Tom’s relationship with his son, Steven, wasn’t as idyllic as he remembers.
The devastating impact of Steven’s death is in no doubt. Tom lives in a lovely Victorian house, but the interior walls have been stripped bare, as if somebody had been preparing to decorate, stopped and never got any further. It’s as if the clocks have stopped in the house and in Tom’s professional life as well, as he steadfastly sticks to 35mm photography, complete with a traditional darkroom, full of chemicals and prints drying on a line. It’s the house that time forgot.
If Still has a fault, it’s that it tries to tackle too many themes, like justice and parenthood. But it does work well on two levels – as a gritty urban thriller and a portrait of a man disintegrating in front of our very eyes. Even when Tom thinks he’s regained control, he hasn’t. And it’s uncomfortable, but utterly riveting, to watch. Like the rest of the film.
Still goes on limited release on Friday, 8 May.