Reviewed by: James Gracey

Shot in bleakest Bristol, Shank is an ambitious little film that deals with, among other things, closeted homosexuality, drug use, peer pressure, ASBO culture, disaffected youth, knife crime, happy slapping, male rape and self-determinism. Despite this veritable quagmire of hot topics, the film is deftly handled by first time director Simon Pearce, who ensures proceedings move along at a brisk pace with minimum fuss and distinct lack of obvious preaching.

At times Shank resembles a sort of Brokeback Ghetto and is a film that verges on soft-core pornography, but it benefits from a strong lead performance from Wayne Virgo as the confused and closeted chav, Cal. The insular world of inner-city gangs is evoked quite successfully with the unshakable sense that these young people are trapped in vicious circles of perpetuating ignorance. They are lost, drifting without ambition or direction through concrete wastelands and never-ending conformity. The characters exist in an all too recognisable world where people must follow the crowd, not stand out or dare to be individual – a recurring shot of some graffiti in the shape of a giant face spray-painted on a tower block seems to preside over everything, keeping watch to ensure no one starts to exhibit signs of individual thought. When Cal calls for his mates to stop beating up fey French exchange student Olivier (Marc Laurent), he essentially ostracises himself from the gang. The tentative relationship between him and the very ‘out’ Olivier then takes centre stage.

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Quite often tenuous links are drawn between love and gang membership – one character even states that love is a lot like being in a gang – it’s easy to fall into, but not so easy to get out of. The film takes an unflinching and at times really rather raw approach to its subject matter though and there are a number of scenes that are uncomfortable to sit through – particularly the prolonged rape scene. Pearce does a commendable job of building tension and creating a sense of urgency, while and stand out performances come courtesy of Virgo, Alice Payne as the vengeful, bloodthirsty and highly volatile Nessa and Garry Summers as teacher Scott - a victim of Cal’s rage and Olivier’s would-be confidant.

Certain scenes, however, are handled in the most brazenly melodramatic ways imaginable, including the old applying-sun-lotion-seduction cliché. Also dragged out are various frolicking in the shower scenes while sappy music conveys a sense of how much this couple are falling for each other against all the odds. Worst of all, a cringe-worthy montage complete with parading in front of a mirror make-over and cutaways to show the distance growing between Cal and his chav friends are also included. Shank comes from a very sincere place, though, and despite the low budget and one or two uneven performances, the obvious conviction of all involved wins through. The film is many things, but it is never boring and is nearly always provocative and challenging.

Reviewed on: 08 Feb 2010
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Bristol-set coming of age drama.
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Director: Simon Pearce

Writer: Darren Flaxstone, Christian Martin

Starring: Wayne Virgo, Marc Laurent, Alice Payne, Tom Bott, Garry Summers, Bernie Hodges, Christian Martin, Louise Fearnside, Oliver Park, Lewis Alexander, Lee Nicholas Harris

Year: 2009

Runtime: 94 minutes

Country: UK


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