I Know You Know

I Know You Know

***

Reviewed by: Anton Bitel

When you are a child, your parents are everything – or at least should be. They clothe you, feed you, guide and support you, and give you the space in which you can grow and flourish. As you get older, however, your parents' flaws and imperfections become more apparent and they no longer seem the invincible heroes you once believed them to be. Such domestic rites of passage represent a subject beloved of indie filmmakers the world over, and they are also the principal theme of I Know You Know, Justin Kerrigan's first feature since his eye-catching debut Human Traffic (1999) – but it is not every coming-of-age tale that manages to be both a semi-autobiographical homage and an espionage thriller.

The place is Bridgend, Wales, and the time is the Eighties. 11-year-old Jamie (Arron Fuller) simply adores his single dad Charlie (Robert Carlyle), a smooth operator with cool shades and a flash car who, unlike older Uncle Ernie (Karl Johnson) and Auntie Lilly (Valerie Lilley), treats Jamie less as a child than as a friend and equal. Back from an extended summer stay in Amsterdam, the pair move into Charlie's old pad on a sink estate, and Jamie starts adjusting to the ups and downs of life at the local comprehensive.

Copy picture

Charlie, however, has a secret, and when Jamie discovers that his father is leading a double-life as an undercover agent for the British government, it serves only to bring the pair closer together. Soon Jamie is joining Charlie on meetings with his handler Mr Fisher (David Bradley), learning how to spot and shake off a tail, and helping his father with the occasional package 'drop'. It is all very exciting – but when Charlie's one final mission does not quite go according to plan, and their projected relocation to a new life of affluence in the US starts looking unlikely, Jamie is confronted with the reality of his father's existence, and realises that at least one of them needs to put way childish things and grow up fast.

I Know You Know suffers from a structural flaw that makes it more difficult to identify with Jamie – stand-in for the younger Kerrigan himself and the film's central point-of-view – than it ought to be. As a mere child faced with ambiguous evidence and conflicted allegiances, Jamie does not at first fully understand what is going on with his father – but the problem is that few attentive adults in the audience will similarly fail to see what is coming. The result is somewhat confused – a twist-based film whose 'big surprise' has in fact been telegraphed – and unnecessarily telegraphed - right from the opening scene, so that viewers will be left wondering whether Kerrigan knows that they know. Perhaps he does, but the film's drift from initial equivocations to subsequent expositions suggests otherwise.

There is, of course, more to I Know You Know than its twist, and by the end, at least, it becomes clear that this is a deeply personal project for Kerrigan, about a child's enduring love for his parent no matter what their circumstances – and it also dramatises, albeit in a most unusual way, the sort of Oedipal acts of betrayal that all sons must perform as part of their journey towards adulthood. The film is sometimes funny, sometimes very tense, and ultimately poignant too, with affecting performances from Carlyle and newcomer Fuller. It is just a pity, though, that by dressing up his domestic tragedy as a boy's own adventure, Kerrigan somehow dilutes, rather than amplifies, the impact of both.

Reviewed on: 21 Oct 2008
Share this with others on...
A young boy harbours suspicions that his father is a spy.
Amazon link

Festivals:

London 2008

Search database: