Ben Drew is fast becoming something of a polymath. Not content with his acclaimed musical guise Plan B, nor his burgeoning acting career (culminating in a recent lead role in 'The Sweeney'), Drew has stepped behind the camera. He unleashed his debut feature film, the hard-hitting urban drama 'ill Manors', earlier this year - creating a flawed yet intriguingly twisted examination of London's social ills.
'ill Manors' draws together the lives of eight main characters, set over the course of a week, stitching their stories together through several different rap tracks. Those songs act as a narration for the film, while also making up the bulk of Plan B's subsequent Mercury Music Prize-nominated album of the same name - a return to his original roots, and away from the soul of 2010's 'The Defamation Of Strickland Banks'.
The intertwining narrative finds the characters embroiled in a distasteful world of gang culture, hard drugs, and prostitution. The triumvirate of primary characters encapsulate the world of 'ill Manors' - ruthless dealer Ed (Ed Skrein), junkie prostitute Michelle (Anouska Mond), and the morally confused Aaron (Riz Ahmed). Each delivers their own powerhouse performance, struggling with the life they lead.
Writer-director Drew suggest that these harsh lives are a direct product of their disrupted upbringings - in particular, highlighting the foster care of Ed and Aaron. This is one of the clear failings of 'ill Manors'. While Drew undoubtedly has more experience of the gritty world he portrays than the vast majority of his audience, it remains far too simplistic a statement.
In contrast, the multiple narrative strands are an ambitious move for such an inexperienced filmmaker. Yet 'ill Manors' succeeds in bringing together its tales, albeit with an over-reliance on co-incidences. Drew also adds pleasingly stylistic flourishes to his work, such as stop-motion.
'ill Manors' is an urban crime drama that sets itself apart from its contemporaries, thanks largely to its surprisingly accomplished writer-director Ben Drew. Extracting tremendous performances from his similarly inexperienced cast, while also delivering a thrilling interweaving narrative, Drew only fails occasionally with simplistic shortcuts. A bold, impactful debut from an artist of notable talent.
DVD EXTRAS/SPECIAL FEATURES:
- Making 'ill Manors' documentary
- 'ill Manors' and 'Pieces' music videos
- 'Bizness Woman' short film
- 'Michelle' short film, the basis for 'ill Manors'
(Further features available on the Blu-ray including a TED lecture, interviews and a digital copy of the film)
'Ill Manors' is available to purchase from Amazon.co.uk on DVD/Blu-ray, through Revolver Entertainment. Read Raman's review of the theatrical release of 'ill Manors' here.