Eye For Film >> Movies >> Play The Devil (2016) Film Review
Play The Devil
Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode
Two men sit on a bed, one older, one younger. There's a tentative exchange of glances, a question, a hand on a kneee, a kiss. Different people will take very different things from this. Is the younger man being invited to embrace his true identity? Is he being drawn into a difficult life that would entail unacceptable compromise? In this film, the division isn't so much between audience members as it is between the men themselves.
James (a rather toneless Gareth Jenkins) is a middle class sophisticate, a business owner living a comfortable life in the suburbs with a wife he says he has never loved. Gregory (Petrice Jones) is a teenager who lives in the slums with his grandmother, has a drug addicted father who comes and goes, and can't understand what James wants from him. He's a talented young man who shines on the stage, has an eye for a good photograph and is working hard to try and win a medical scholarship, but he's realistic about what he can achieve. Whilst the lonely James wants to shower him with gifts and opportunities - at little meaningful cost to himself - Gregory feels cornered and resentful. James isn't the first man he's been involved with but he values an established lifestyle that leaves no room for being gay.
Despite the story's focus on the interactions of these two characters, the film is crowded with others, the mass of their stories pushing up against that slender central narrative. Socially, James' life seems pretty empty. Though we glimpse it only briefly, it's plain that it's full of influential associates and few real friends. Gregory's life is built around his friends and family. His bustling, complicated universe challenges the single issue approach of most Hollywood output, whilst the number of different pressures he's contending with communicate what it's like to be poor. It doesn't help that his grandmother pushes him to depend more on his friendship with James; it's not clear if she understands the nature of it, but she sees it as a way out for him, whereas he sees it as a trap.
Jones is impressive in a film that depends largely on his performance. He shows us that there's more going on than internalised homophobia or fear of compromising religious beliefs. Social pressure around those issues doesn't help, though, and neither does the focus on heterosexual passion and escalating emotional tempo of Trinidad and Tobago's Carnival. There, Gregory will play the Devil, streaked with blue and gold. It's an opportunity to let himself go, but the result may not be what anyone expected of him.Reviewed on: 28 Sep 2017