Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

In my business you take what you're given, and it isn't always fun. When I heard that I was to review a rock n' roll road movie biker comedy involving drugs, a lot of warning bells sounded in my head. It sounded like a first time director (it is) tackling a script by a first time writer (it is; his own) without anyone really knowing what they were doing. Add any of the above-mentioned story elements to that mix and you usually end up with a disaster, a labour of love whose flaws its creators simply cannot see. I was greatly relieved, then, to find that Freebird is something quite different.

Let me explain. Bikers in movies are almost always a sensationalist ploy by people who know nothing about the subculture. That's not the case here. Writer-director Jon Ivay clearly understands and sympathises with his protagonists. They're not glorified but they are allowed to be human beings and to develop as characters which go beyond the usual outsider stereotypes. Drugs in movies are also, more often than not, badly misjudged, but Ivay handles them with the same level of acuity and confidence seen in classics like Trainspotting and Withnail And I. There are no moral issues attached (though hero Fred gradually comes to understand the negative effect they've had on his life), but the experiences the characters go through when taking them are accurately portrayed. Though at times this can drag a little - at least if one is sober oneself - it's also the source of much of the film's humour. This isn't a joke-based comedy. It's unforced and observational, largely dependent on character and on the quiet absurdities of day to day life.

Freebird tells the story of Fred, a middle aged man with a daughter he loves but never sees, who agrees to travel to Wales to talk to a woodland-dwelling hippy and score some good weed for an old friend. His pals Tyg and Grouch come along for the ride, but th quiet countryside where they begin their search for the hippy is not quite as peaceful as they might have expected. Two rival biker gangs are preparing to go to war over a misunderstanding. Unwittingly, our heroes are caught in the middle. The plot is unnecessarily convoluted and feels at times like two scripts mashed into one, but this is less of a problem than one might expect, because they're wasted most of the time, and the viewer shares that perspective. Quite early in the story, subliminal images start to appear, creating a sense of uncertainty, unease. Combined with an approach to possible hallucinations which never steps back to confirm what's real, this proves a very effective disorientating narrative technique. In that state, the plot begins to seem less important than the personal journey.

Doubtless many people will go to see this film specifically because it's about bikers, and they'll find a good deal to reward them. Not only are there some realistic, likable characters (though the story perhaps takes on more than it really has room to develop), there's a proper sense of the allure of bikes, whether on dirt tracks, in London traffic, or out on the open road. The bikes themselves are astutely chosen and appealingly photographed. There's a proper sense of community within the gangs.

Freebird is still identifiably a first film. It has quite a few holes which can't be blamed on the drugs and its ending is trite no matter how you look at it (though it could easily have been worse). But it's really very impressive for a first film and you wouldn't be wasting your time or money if you chose it to entertain you on a Saturday night.

Reviewed on: 29 Jan 2008
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Three bikers travel to Wales in search of drugs but find themselves caught in a conflict between gangs.
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Director: Jon Ivay

Writer: Jon Ivay

Starring: Gary Stretch, Phil Daniels, Geoff Bell, Martin Serene, Peter Bowles

Year: 2008

Runtime: 102 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: UK


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