The positive reception of 2006’s 'Kidulthood' has no doubt paved the way, in some part, for the production of films like 'The Man Inside' – a grim depiction of inner-city ‘yoof’ life that centres on the struggle of one young man to overcome the violence of his upbringing. Unfortunately, where 'Kidulthood' was leavened by its frequently outrageous and witty script, 'The Man Inside' falls flat.
Ashley “Bashy” Thomas (best known for his hip-hop and grime career) stars in the central role as Clayton Murdoch, a man tormented by childhood memories of his father’s brutality and struggling to establish his own identity.
With his father Eugene (David Harewood) in prison, Clayton is responsible for protecting his fanatically religious, damaged mother, his naïve, trouble-prone younger brother and his pregnant sister – who is being harassed by unstable ex-boyfriend, Karl (Theo Barklem-Biggs), ultimately setting off a fatal chain of events.
Clayton finds escape by boxing, mentored by hard-as-nails Gordon (Peter Mullan), a veteran boxer and father to the flighty Alexia (Michelle Ryan), a recovering drug addict and Clayton’s long-term crush.
All of this sounds like a recipe for success, but sadly I found the film to be quite plodding and predictable. Although the acting is impressive from the majority of the cast – and particularly Ashley Thomas, who delivers a truly anguished performance – the story fails to captivate.
Clayton is more or less monosyllabic (and not in a cool Ryan Gosling, 'Drive' way) and seems to bounce aimlessly from one overwrought encounter to another, each one generously peppered with extreme close-ups, presumably for dramatic effect. The weedy, pallid Karl doesn’t seem like enough of a threat to justify all the fuss, and the film shies away from tackling the real meaty gang culture issue – instead paying unconvincing lip service with dialogue that shows an over-reliance on the word “bruv”.
The central theme of the movie – Clayton’s psychological battle with his past – is undoubtedly an intriguing one, and the sequences that explore this are the most compelling. The plot and script, however, are disappointing – and certainly nothing to challenge Noel Clarke’s current dominance in the genre.
'The Man Inside' is out on Friday 27 July in UK cinemas, through Kaleidoscope.