Shifty

Shifty

***1/2

Reviewed by: Anton Bitel

When Eran Creevy, a London-born director of commercials and pop promos, ran into an old friend turned crack dealer and an old flame ravaged by addiction, he was moved to write and helm his first feature. The result is Shifty, one of 10 films to be made under the aegis of Film London's Microwave initiative, which provides budding filmmakers with both a mentor (Creevy's was Asif Kapadia, of The Warrior) and a budget of up to £100,000. Shot in just 18 days, and coming in just short of 90 minutes, it races furiously along, capturing perfectly the sense of a life fast spinning out of control.

Indeed, spinning of a literal kind features in one of the film's key scenes. Back visiting his home turf on an outer London estate for the first time since he fled under a cloud four years earlier, Chris (Daniel Mays) goes with his best mate Shifty (Riz Ahmed) to a deserted playground, where the two twirl round and round on a ride. It is as though they are both children again together, but significantly Chris gets off first, leaving Shifty to spin alone, round and round in rapid circles that are getting him nowhere.

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It is a scene that encapsulates the dynamic between these old friends. Chris left the estate for a white-collar job in Manchester after a tragedy made him realise where his life was headed if he stayed behind, while Shifty just kept going, selling ever harder drugs to the community at ever greater risk to both himself and his customers.

As one character so eloquently puts it, being a Muslim drug dealer during the War on Terror ensures that Shifty is "fucked either way", and when he is not evading the attempts of his brother (Nitin Caanatra) and parents to get him back on the straight and narrow, he is contending with a desperate client, fleet-footed police, and a double-dealing supplier (Jason Flemyng) who is plotting his downfall. Into this increasingly dangerous mix comes Chris, ostensibly there to attend a party that evening, but also back to exorcise some ghosts from his own past and to show his mate a different kind of future. It is going to be a long and eventful 24 hours.

Shifty makes for an intelligent and charismatic protagonist, even if we are kept guessing till the end whether he is really wily enough to stay ahead of the serious trouble coming his way. Moral questions might be raised about the rights and wrongs of making a dealer a hero, but the film is utterly responsible in its depiction of Shifty's downward trajectory, as well as in its focus on the people whose lives he willingly helps to destroy.

The performances are convincing, the pace is hot, and Creevy finds plenty of room for absurd character humour, so that the story's inherent suspense creeps up unawares, as we wonder if Shifty will be able to land on his feet when he inevitably comes off the swing. It is an impressive, energetic debut that will leave you with a taste for more.

Reviewed on: 13 Oct 2008
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Twenty-four hours in the life of a Muslim crack dealer and a friend from his past.
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