7 out of 10

Release Date: 3rd February 2012

Director: David Blair

Cast: Stephen Graham, Adewale Akinnouye-Agbaje, Maxine Peake, Emma Stansfield, Lee Ingleby, Sarah Parks, Stuart Wolfenden with Peter Wight and David O’Hara


UnknownThis imaginative jazz riff on John Steinbeck’s Of Mice Men re-locates the action to the city of Nottingham.  Stephen Graham’s (DOGHOUSE) Danny is the unofficial carer of a giant man child called Joseph played by Adewale Akinnouye-Agbaje (LOST).  Danny is in essence a good man who’s poverty and station in life force him to do bad things.  So with an increasing regularity he begins to exploit Joseph’s good will to bail him out of one bad situation to the next.  This culminates when local crime lord, Curtis (DAVID O’HARA – CONTRABAND) catches up with the pair demanding payment of an old debt.  Does this sound depressingly familiar?  Well to the main pair’s credit they pull off difficult roles with ease.  The dynamic between the fly, Danny and the loveable Joseph is so convincing.  The film never gets too sentimental or over manipulative. When Danny has to persuade the indestructible Joseph to enter some brutal and illegal boxing matches for Curtis you feel a real pull.  Danny’s debt to Curtis is so big that Joseph has to fight his way through half a dozen bouts.  Dread and the potential for tragedy lurks around ever turn in this movie.

Other plot lines weave their way in and out of the story, Danny meets a working girl (EMMA STANSFIELD), who may be his way out of his downward spiral.  Joseph also takes his first tentative steps towards having a girlfriend when he meets Isabel (MAXINE PEAKE – PRIVATE PEACEFUL) who has cerebral palsy.  These two women shed light on some interesting parts of the leads characters and also serve to cause conflict between them.  An outsider gives Joseph a different perspective on life, showing him just how much Danny relies on him as well and crucially, exactly how much money he is withholding from him from the fights and maybe his government benefits.

The acting, plot and screenplay are all spot on.  Stephen Graham has rarely been better, giving us another Liverpudlian gargoyle to file with Combo from This Is England. I never even realised that Adewale Akinnouye-Agbaje was a UK based actor, having only seen him in supporting roles Hollywood movies like GI Joe and The Bourne Identity, and this role has echoes of the late Michael Clarke Duncan‘s John Coffey in The Green Mile.  Perfect casting on all fronts.  Best Laid Plans could have descended into melodrama but everything is believable. The inclusion of organised crime bosses is a touch Hollywood but it’s also the makers credit that even Curtis has a place within the film’s universe.  Nottingham is a fascinating city to set such a tale and mixing familiar sites with the grimy, unpopulated industrial areas is a good look.  Director David Blair has had a long track record of in TV series’ and the odd film.  Best Laid Plans looks like a brave step in a new direction, and based on this I hope gets to offer us more British films about very interesting people in equally interesting situations.

7 out of 10 – A great acting showcase for the two leads.  This more or less takes it’s cues from Of Mice & Men but it isn’t slavish to the source, offering enough variation to be it’s own beast. Recommended wholeheartedly.




One thought on “BEST LAID PLANS (2012)

  1. BEST LAID PLANS by Matt Usher

    Updating and re-writing the classics is always a tricky business. If you stay slavishly close to the original there’s no point in doing it; stray too far and all you’re doing is trying to hijack some good will. Which brings us to OF MICE AND MEN AND CAGE FIGHTS, or BEST LAID PLANS as the producers decided to call it. On the one hand the film takes the basic template of the Steinbeck rib-tickler American Tragedy™ and relocates it to the glum streets of Nottingham. This is a good move. Another good move is the casting of Stephen Graham and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje as Danny and Joseph, an archetypal/stereotypical odd couple on the fringes of society. Danny is a small time criminal and one of life’s eternal losers, who looks after Joseph, effectively a child in (a very big) man’s clothing. But is it as simple as that? They need each other, and the film is at its most successful when gently observing the balance of power and dependency between them. And it is at times very successful: when Danny is being particularly dense/selfish, you’re shouting at him not to be an idiot. It’s an excellently drawn relationship, and both actors pull out all the stops (in a good way), staying truthful to the characters and avoiding the sentimentality that could very easily have taken over. But having set up the dynamic the film loses the plot quite literally. Having decided to use the Steinbeck as an inspiration rather than a model (I think – it’s decades since we sat through the TV version in English – I don’t think they thought we’d be able to read the book itself) the film then falls back on the simplest of low-budget British movie rent-a-perils: loan-shark debt. Yes, there’s a scary gangster lurking malevolently who just happens to be the promoter of the local cage fights, and Danny owes him lots. And so the film flits unsuccessfully between genres: from THE FULL MONTY-type japes of the opening it moves into Loach-like social realism before being diverted into a Paul Tanterish fight club. It’s a wonder they didn’t make one of the characters a football hooligan as well.

    The cage fight subplot seems to have been imported and it takes up a lot of the film’s running time. It’s as if one of the producers (possibly the one who were responsible for the DVD release of the film) wanted to sell this to fans of the violent fisticuffs genre. It’s all done extremely well, but it just doesn’t fit. For much of the film Joseph is a gentle, lovable character who doesn’t understand the world, and whose strength can get him into trouble. But put him in a cage he suddenly become a ruthlessly efficient killing machine (albeit a reluctant one). It’s like Popeye eating spinach, and about as credible. Add to that the tedious machinations of villains David O’Hara (employing an impenetrably granitic accent) and Lee Ingleby, who seem to be in cahoots one minute and deadly enemies the next, only to switch allegiances again moments later, and the film wanders unnecessarily into bad-gangster-movie territory.

    Meanwhile, in the real bit of the film we find Maxine Peake (whose presence alone proves this is a proper film) as Isabel, Joseph’s new girlfriend. Brain-damaged at birth, she and Joseph make a sweet couple, and the film might have been more interesting just following them and the sometimes unexpected reactions of the in-laws (Peter Wight and Sarah Parks). The crisis that this relationship provokes between Joseph and Danny is pushed to the side. Elsewhere we find Danny’s redemption in the shape of a prostitute (played by Emma Stansfield) straight out of the bad writers’ handbook: she may be a lady of the night, but she’s sensitive (we know this because she’s an artist really) and falls for the irresistible charms of Stephen Graham (despite his appalling hygiene – rarely has a home looked so bedraggled) for no real reason other than the plot requires it.

    BEST LAID PLANS should have been a character / relationship study. The characters and actors are (for the most part) interesting and good enough to make something like that work. And if it had to stray into some other genre then surely it should have tried to follow in the tradition of, for example, BRASSED OFF, i.e. a bleak comedy about hopelessness. But no, the film decides that cage fights are the answer. I don’t mind films traipsing between genres, but the problem here is that it’s not traipsing so much as sandwiching two unrelated films next to each other. The packaging doesn’t help. The title (despite its origins in a Robert Burns poem) suggests some form of thriller (like that other BEST LAID PLANS from all those years ago which Brit Pic Dick and I watched one night in deepest darkest Brighton), and the DVD cover suggests a fight movie. It is none of these things. Wasting time with all the punch-ups just diminishes the rest of the film: could the film-makers really not have either (a) found a better way to sour the relationship between Joseph and Danny, or (b) found a way of making the fight sequences more credible, more pathetic and crumby? The DVD blurb describes this as ‘an unforgivingly hard-hitting thriller’. Bring back the Trades Descriptions Act! Having shoehorned a cage fight scenario into the film why did the film-makers try to sell the film to fans of cage fight films when it so clearly isn’t one? This should have been in the BAFTA category for Grittily Compelling Yet Strangely Uplifting Small-Scale British Films. But it ends up shoved into the bad fight movie bins.

    BEST LAID PLANS may have been made with the best of intentions, but it’s compromised at a basic level: though excellently executed and almost worth watching for the performances, the sustained gloomy atmosphere, and a good script, it is poorly conceived. Perhaps the film-makers should have paid attention to the rest of Burns’ poem.

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