10 out of 10

Release Date: 20th July 2010

Director: Ben Wheatley: (Freakshift / Free Fire / High-Rise / Dr Who (TV) / A Field In England / Sightseers Kill List )

Cast: Robert Hill, Julia Deakin, Robin Hill, David Schaal, Tony Way, Kerry Peacock, Mark Kempner, Gareth Tunley and Michael Smiley 

Writer: Ben Wheatley & Robin Hill


Here comes one of the best films you’ve never heard of.  Before the criminally underrated Kill List came this Brighton set crime thriller with a difference, Down Terrace.  Bill (ROBERT HILL) is the head of crime family who run several Brighton clubs and the drug traffic they generate.  His son, real life son, Karl (ROBIN HILL – THE BORDERLANDS) has just been released from jail after a trumped up charge that indicates there is a rat very close by.  Various associates come by their ordinary terrace house to pay their respects and say hello.  Events turn sinister when the general paranoia escalates. The rat is buried deep and it literally could be anyone.

What makes Down Terrace unique is the approach.  The script is so realistic yet humorous.  Deftly sketching this family as a likeable yet homicidal brood sets this apart from the legions of British gangster films. It’s like Mike Leigh sat down to write a crime thriller but this is probably better than even he could do.  The cast is a broad mixture of familiar faces from TV and life long friends of the director and the performances are seemless.  As the body count rises the laughter becomes more and more hollow.  There are amazingly inventive quirks. Bill enjoys afternoons playing folk music with a local band in his living room, low rent assassin, Chris Pringle (MICHAEL SMILEY – OUTPOST) has babysitter problems, Karl’s girlfriend Valda (KERRY PEACOCK) is pregnant but no one has the brains to count up the months he was away and the months until its arrival.  The mother (JULIA DEAKIN – DANCING THRU’ THE DARK) as expected is probably the hardest out of the lot and proves to be the backbone of this headless chicken of a gang but ultimately she has no doubt where her loyalties lie.

Essentially set in one house with a clutch of outdoor scenes, you’ll be hard pressed to find a more involving comedy drama.  Its hard to choose whether this or Kill List is the more accomplished but either way it certainly shows that his follow up was no fluke.  Sightseers is due next month (at the time of writing) and he’s already working on a English Civil War ghost story called A Field In England.

Spread the word. Ben Wheatley is an amazing British talent. On a side note it would be nice to see Mr Hill sr. and jr. again in his new films.  They both have very fleeting cameoes in Kill List but that’s not enough for this particular fan.

10 out of 10 – Hilarious, well written and superbly acted and plotted from beginning to end.  The best British gangster since Sexy Beast. Then along came last year’s equally excellent but different Kill List. Which is best?  You tell me.



One thought on “DOWN TERRACE

  1. Review by Joe Pesci II aka Matt Usher of Matt’s Hairy Dungeon Movies TM

    Ben Wheatley’s debut is the third of his films I have seen. Having been baffled and blown away by KILL LIST, and having delighted in the delicate joys of SIGHTSEERS I was apprehensive that DOWN TERRACE might not deliver. Sadly I was right (to some extent).
    To suggest that DOWN TERRACE is a triumph of style over substance may seem a bit odd, what with there being no style on view. But it is its inherent stylelessness which is its style; as far as substance is concerned I couldn’t find any. But time and again we are reminded that this is a grim, grimy, real-life, Loachy-Leigh kind of grittily gritty, really real kind of kitchen-sinky sort of film with lots of grime and grit and kitchens and really real gritty people making tea and routinely battering each other to death (with household objects). And so, by seeming to attempt to stay out of the way the director ends up giving us significantly more style than he (presumably) intended. And it all just gets in the way of not very much.
    In SPEED there’s a bit where Jeff Daniels quietly steals the film; he’s just realised he’s about to die, that he’s got maybe a few seconds left at most; across his face flit acceptance, hope, despair, panic (not in that order)and then he gets blown up a lot by dastardly Dennis Hopper. In just a few seconds Daniels gives a quite beautiful masterclass showing something which would never happen because in real life he’d be running for the door desperate to save himself. But it works because it’s how we’d like to think we’d be in such a situation, and it’s a big Hollywood movie where make-believe is all important.
    Why am I banging on about some old Hollywood nonsense? Because what Hollywood long ago spotted, and what the likes of Mike Leigh (to whose work this film has been compared) understand is that realism isn’t enough. (For all his suburban misery, Leigh doesn’t forget that he’s making films as opposed to photographing ‘real life’).
    The great problem with realism is that it isn’t altogether credible (paradox I know but there you go). In your average gangster film the likes of De Niro or Pesci (no relation) will go around killing and being killed like it was just another part of the job. After all, this is cool. Maybe the lunks of DOWN TERRACE want to be De Niro, as they too behave like murder and being murdered is quite a run of the mill activity for them. And I find that difficult to believe. No-one here seems to have much difficulty with making corpses, or leaving them on the couch, but they’re so hopeless and so quick to act that I just don’t see how they didn’t get themselves killed years ago. And the reason this is an issue (with me at least) is because of the film’s hyper-realistic approach; had Harvey Keitel been spraying bullets merrily accompanied by some Motown hit this wouldn’t be a problem because I’d be moaning about how unrealistic it all is; but for this lot, making tea and going to Tesco just points up the improbability of the situation.
    In DOWN TERRACE there is none of this Hollywood veneer. Here we have some ordinary blokes, quite stunningly stupid for the most part, and with quite dismally restricted vocabularies, who turn out to be some sort of Brighton mob. One of them has been in jail, apparently for something he didn’t do (we never find out what it was, though he probably did do it judging from his subsequent behaviour – not that that’s admissible; there’s an implication that children were involved of course). His incarceration may have been due to one of his colleagues giving the game away. So he kills him. Then it’s a matter of cover-ups and conspiracies, and soon they’re all at it.
    Ultimately, it’s difficult to care (or even be interested) in this lot. The story, once you unravel it, has been done a million times: someone has squealed – who? There’s a fading patriarch, a young hoodlum not yet versed in the ways of hoodlumism. (Good grief, spellcheck likes hoodlumism.) There’s a moll with her own agenda, and the matriarch is the most dangerous of the lot of them. Meanwhile there are the usual hangers-on, traitors, advisers and assassins (though it’s nice to see one with babysitting troubles). (But it’s the babysitting that’s the trouble; how am I meant to believe that he gets things done when he can’t find a babysitter?)
    There’s a lot of good work going on. It’s intensely claustrophobic, even the scenes set outdoors feel cramped. There’s at least one good shock. The performances are believable, particularly the parents (though I found Robin Hill as the son irritatingly one-note, but I suspect he’s meant to be). There is no exposition, we are left to fill in lots of gaps, as if we’re eavesdropping but not fully in possession of the facts. The sudden intrusion of folk-singing is a plus.
    But I felt an overwhelming ‘so what?’ about this sorry bunch. It’s all brilliantly done, but I was left only with admiration for the skill, like I’d observed a very successful technical exercise or experiment. To be fair, it’s a well-realised exercise and an excellent example of what can be done with extremely limited resources, but it nevertheless remains an exercise.
    And for me it just doesn’t hang together convincingly. In short, I just didn’t believe it. For all its gritty grimness, and the interesting idea of looking at just how rubbish criminal life may well be (and I have been in the presence of a south coast crime lord and it was a bit grimy), it’s let down by a hackneyed story and undermined by its own logic. Remake please with George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Robert Pattinson and set in a really big mansion please. I think I might have missed the point with this one.

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