Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Billed as "A Clockwork Orange for the Broken Britain", and aiming to provide a voice for neglected urban youth, this grim little film from the prolific Noel Clarke sets itself some difficult challenges from the start. It struggles to surmount them, but its ambition is still an asset, elevating a routine pursuit-and-revenge meets coming-of-age story into something which shows flashes of real inspiration.

Appropriately for a film largely styled after video games, it opens with a chase. Junior (Kedar Williams-Stirling) is hurtling along, charging through the backstreets of a rundown estate with little apparent heed to what's going on around him, desperate to escape his pursuer. This could be a commonplace childhood game, but the jump cutting and the claustrophobic camerawork quickly builds a sense of menace. Whilst we're used to seeing heroes in peril in dystopian thrillers, there's something about hearing a child cry out like that which still jars. And this is the key to the film. With a skill beyond his years, Williams-Stirling humanises a character and situation with which viewers are initially jaded. He resensitises the audience to horrors that are really quite close to home.

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Shank is set in 2015. Not long for the world to have decayed the way we see here - but long enough, perhaps, if we accept that parts of it have decayed already. Junior's people have been running in gangs for as long as he can remember. His parents are a faded memory; he's looked after by big brother Rager (Ashley Bashy Thomas), in whose care he enjoys brief moments of being able to feel like a child. Here the film shifts tone abruptly. There's still delight to be found amid the ugliness. Enough so that, when Rager is fatally attacked. Junior becomes determined that he will stop at nothing to get revenge.

Revenge in a world like this wouldn't be easy even for an adult, and it's complicated by the fact that Rager and his gang were dedicated to non-violence; they made their living as thieves and runners, trading in the streets' most precious commodity, food. So Junior is forced to seek dangerous allies in his quest, and to enter parts of society which even he has little familiarity with. There's a refreshing portrayal of female characters here - not the wary victims of most dystopian stories, they're perfectly capable of looking after themselves - but there are also the usual hard men and thugs. Curiously, echoing the moral commitment of the gang, the film portrays violence mostly indirectly, using video game motifs - a fight between dogs is illustrated with shouting onlookers and waning health bars. It's a hit and miss approach, sometimes trashing the tension at crucial moments, but it does at least mean that the film can legally be seen by some of those in the most appropriate age group for it, those who can directly imagine themselves in Junior's shoes.

Shank doesn't ultimately have very much that's new to say, and as a statement of urban values it doesn't come close to Clarke's earlier Kidulthood, but it's interesting as a child-focused look at the legacy of adult neglect. Its very naivety contributes to the urgency of its tale.

Reviewed on: 21 Jul 2010
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In a grim future, a boy living in a neglected neighbourhood seeks to avenge the killing of his brother.
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Director: Mo Ali

Writer: Paul Van Carter

Starring: Kedar Williams-Stirling, Ashley Bashy Thomas, Adam Deacon, Michael Socha, Jan Uddin, Kaya Scodelario

Year: 2010

Runtime: 90 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: UK


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