Film: Offender

The cast/crew bit: directed by Ron Scalpello, starring Joe Cole, English Frank & Kimberley Nixon

The ten-word synopsis: Bloke goes to jail to kill other blokes in jail.

I saw Offender in a near-empty cinema screening on a Monday afternoon. There were, perhaps, six of us there, excluding myself and a movie-going companion. All half dozen of them were in tracksuits, hoodies or the type of attire that would similarly get your brandished as a ‘Chav’. It was at this point that I, walking in late with my grey blazer jacket, realised that I may not be the target audience for this film. The rest of the buzzcut-modeling audience wouldn’t’ve looked out of place on the screen. They may have enjoyed it. They may have thought it was a good film. I, on the other hand, am just glad that this disclaimer is done so I and move onto the misjudged, sloppy mess of a film that I found myself watching.

I’ve never been to jail, nor do I ever picture myself doing so, but I don’t imagine it being like the depiction portrayed in Offender. Prisoners wander freely between their cells, rarely seeming contained, especially with passers by supplying them with all the drugs and other good in the world. The institution has a couple of hundred inmates, but only four guards, and even then one of them’s a corrupt, desperate drug-dealer. I know there’s a recession on and everything, but you’d think that they’d realise the ratio had to be slightly higher than that. Fights break out all the time, and only one occasion is anything done to break it up. While this may hold beads of truth, the film involves murder -actual murder- on the prison grounds. And not just one in a dramatic finale. Four murders, spread throughout the film. Four murders and a man put in intensive care for the rest of his life with serious brain damage. And yet the only action the government take is to send one, singular female police officer to have a look around in the movies’ last ten minutes. As I say, I’ve never been to jail, but…

The films’ tone and portrayal of borstal is very dark and gritty, but never real. It, to me, feels like a Media Studies student with a vision tried to make something that people’d call ‘real’, just because it doesn’t skimp on the grit. In all fairness, the cast are believable as jailbait, although, in some cases, I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s because they’ve just been released on bail. Joe Cole plays the quiet prison new boy Tommy, who’s probation officer girlfriend was due to have a baby, but after an attack lost her child. Quite how a couple of punches to the face caused her foetus to explode is beyond me, but then I’ve never given birth either. Tommy is besides himself with anger, so decided to beat up a policeman and just happens to be sent to the same prison as the gang from whom his girls’ attacker came. It’s said that a reliance on coincidence is the first sign of a man who can’t craft a story, and so for such a simple set-up as ‘Angry man goes to prison’ to be so reliant on chance really isn’t a good omen. This story is told in flashback, while the main story in the prison unfolds. This’d be fine, but the flashbacks are badly handled and ping back at random points when it doesn’t feel appropriate without warning. There’s no explination or difference in the style of shot or any type of transition. It doesn’t feel clumsy, as such, but it does fall flat on its face.

There’s also a suggestion that, from the gang of ne’er-do-wells, we don’t know who actually attacked Tommys’ misses. Yes we do. I initially interpreted the ‘He did it!’ ‘No, he did it!’ as some sort of commentary on the untrustworthiness and backstabbing qualities of this type of person. But no. You get to about 70 minutes in, and we see, with dramatic music playing, a slow-motion shot of one character removing the mask as they walk away from the car. The film was trying to be a whodunnit. It’s not a whodunnit, it’s a hedunnit. It’s the most obvious plot development since the National Trust decided to fund allotments.

None of the characters get a shot at redemption, which is worth praising in my book, but it takes more than one idea to get you a positive rating. In fact, that actually works against the film during the actual watching process, as I grew so sick and tired of the characters that I wanted a reason to like them, to make the hour and a half I spent with them worthwhile. They’re not dislikable but unlikeable. ¬†Interestingly, there’s a positive portrayal of the Muslim faith floating around in the film. However, this again feels to me like a Media Studies student making an observation during an RE lesson a couple of years back and shoehorning it in rather than someone genuinely looking to make some sort of statement.

I’ve looked at other, more positive reviews of Offender, and they tend to say that the film is a stab at a British prison drama, praising its grit and dark themes. I can’t help but feel as though this is all that first-time director Ron Scalpello was aiming for. Personally, I’d like to see some more ambition. Earlier this year I saw a small-budget British horror film called Storage 24, which I liked quite a bit because it had that ambition and a drive to be something more. Offender lacks this. There’s a weird artistic vision Scalpello seems to have when it comes to mood lighting for torture scenes and slow-motion embraces that I found kind of offputting. I’ll allow the others their own views on a film that clearly wasn’t made for me, but I find it hard to over look the fact that, when it comes down to it, Offender just isn’t a very good film.

3 TV news stations referring to deputy PM Milliband out of 10

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