CITY RATS

5 out of 10

Release Date: 24th April 2009 (DVD Premiere)

Director: Steve Kelly (The Shouting Men)

Cast: Tamer Hassan, Myanna Buring, Danny Dyer, Natasha Williams, Kenny Doughty, James Lance, Jake Canuso with Susan Lynch and Ray Panthaki

Writer: Simon Fantauzzo

Trailer: CITY RATS

City Rats is an awful title. It evokes predictable expectations of low level gangster shenanigans. City Rats is one of those films based on Le Ronde that generally work despite themselves due to our inherent interest in regular life.  Like all films like this though, some of the storylines work better than others. Some of the plot lines in City Rats are compelling and quite brilliant, but then others are baffling and belong to a crap movie.  Danny Dyer (DEVIATION) submits one of his best performances since his career as ‘independent’ cinema’s go-to man began.  His story strand is my favourite. A largely game cast are challenged by some very strange material, so sadly the end result is fairly mixed. If you look at City Rats as a competent and enjoyable version of the tortuous 7Lives (also starring Danny Dyer) then you’re onto a winner. Comparing this to mighty films like Short Cuts or Grand Canyon will only serve to undermine what a modest little flick this is.

First of all Danny Dyer plays a recovering alcoholic and small time hood who is stalked by a middleaged nurse (NATASHA WILLIAMS) on an unusual quest for answers and ultimately redemption. In another plot, crippled prostitute Susan Lynch (THE SCOUTING BOOK FOR BOYS) who is interviewed about her life by an obsessed neighbour (RAY PANTHAKI – THE MAN INSIDE). Elsewhere a suicidal Tamer Hassan (THE REVERAND) drops watermelons from skyscraper roofs.  He only bucks up when he spots fellow suicidal ditherer (MYANNA BURING – KILL LIST) on a nearby roof top. Finally, gay drop out Kenny Doughty (THE CREW) is visited by his deaf and autistic brother (JAMES LANCE – BEL AMI) who is also gay and endeavours to get him laid on a night out. All four of these strands are connected, but how?

Two of these stories work quite well and the other two are too peculiar to convince on their desired levels. Let’s start with the good ones. Danny Dyer‘s through line is the most intriguing and he probably has the plum role as the troubled hood on a path to enlightenment.  His interaction with his weird stalker on a mission is brilliant. Special mention goes to Natasha Williams, who is perhaps the most unusual character, looks wise and story wise to have blessed a brit pic in a very long time. It’s a shame that this story was not given enough room to carry the entire movie. It’s a testament to how good Danny Dyer can be.  His mucker Tamer Hassan fares less well in a difficult role but he’s way better than we’re used to seeing him.  The other good but strange story line is the ‘gay’ brother arc. There are some unexplained aspects to this part of the film but it’s still reasonably compelling and helped by good acting from Doughty and Lance.

Susan Lynch is great as a crippled prostitute but it’s a shame that her section of the film offers nothing new or nowhere to go for the her. Ray Panthaki‘s artist is as poncey and ridiculously annoying as an early 20s hipster I’ve ever met, it doesn’t make for good viewing and their spiring comes across as boring and a hugh waste of running time. Shame really because, Susan Lynch has found a rare role that she can run wild with.  Tamer Hassan and MyAnna Buring are left with a great deal of the emotional heft as the pair of potential suicides, but this segment (again despite some good acting) is unconvincingly written. It’s a tight rope walk that only a radical rewrite could salvage. A meet-cute pair of suicides smacks of huge pretensions.

City Rats is a brave little movie in that it tries a lot of different approaches. It’s a great shame that it isn’t successful. The four stories fail to gel, and don’t even seem to be from the same film. The tone weaves wildly from scene to scene, but inspite of all this I liked it more than the majority of indies I’ve sat through recently.

5 out of 10 – Worth seeing for a very good Danny Dyer performance, the strange Natasha Williams and Tamer Hassan not playing a thug.  It’s a mixed bag for sure, ranging from quiet brilliance to toe-curling awfulness. But at least it’s intrepid and has ideas to spare. City Rats is different enough to stick in the memory. Awful f*cking title though.

PS: Dyer / Hassan fans. They don’t share any scenes.

Review below by Matt ‘City Prat’ Usher – He didn’t like the title.

WHAT HAVE I SEEN THAT ACTOR IN BEFORE?

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One thought on “CITY RATS

  1. CITY RATS – Review by Joe Pesci II aka Matt Usher

    Terrible title. Pretty good film. But be warned! The film-makers have foolishly allowed publicists and marketing morons to try to sell this film as a tough East-end gangster film. It isn’t. But it’s understandable: it stars Tamer (THE BUSINESS) Hassan and Danny (THE BUSINESS) Dyer. It must be a lot easier to sell THE BUSINESS than it is to sell a thoughtful film following eight intertwining lives over the course of (I think) a day or so, eight lives all of which are at crisis points. So, this is not THE BUSINESS. And it’s all the better for that. But why they’re trying to make out that it’s a tough thriller I have no idea. Life must be tough enough anyway being a Tamer Hassan fan. Every now and again you get to see him playing some sort of charismatically violent thug (BONDED BY BLOOD, 24), but, being an actor, he understandably tries new things. Unfortunately the marketing department seem to be unaware of this, and so Hassan’s fans find themselves renting copies of DIAMOND HEIST (a comedy about Hungarian male strippers featuring Hassan in drag) and CITY RATS (terrible title for a decent film) which is about suicide, misery, a grieving mother, and featuring what must surely be the first gay sex scene involving a deaf autistic man. Anyone wanting to see Hassan doing violence will be sorely disappointed. But we do see him dropping melons off of high buildings and imagining he’s a melon. He’s playing someone with one of those city jobs that no-one can quite explain (you know, the brokers and bankers who landed us in the economic mire of the last 7 years and successfully managed to blame it all on the poor – one of those swine). He also uses phone chat-lines in lieu of the Samaritans and stops a would-be melon-imitator (Myanna Buring) from ending it all. They compare miseries. It all ends in tears.

    Meanwhile, in a completely equally unconnected storyline (or is it?), Susan Lynch is a disabled prostitute with an irritating neighbour who claims to be an artist (Ray Panthaki) who wants her to be his muse (he even says ‘be my muse’). But she’s a busy lady, both on the phone and with cowboy fantasists. It all ends in tears too.

    Meanwhile, and completely unconnected in every way, Kenny Doughty plays a clever but stupid bloke who has to look after his gay deaf autistic brother who comes to London for a visit. Doughty is busy denying his own homosexuality but decides to help his brother discover his. Amazingly, this also ends in tears.

    And finally we find Danny Dyer playing a troubled drunken ex-prisoner (who’s also a very bad short-order chef). He meets a woman (Natasha Williams) whose son has vanished, and Dyer is implicated. They go on a bit of an odyssey to discover the truth. Tears ensue.

    Perhaps I should point out (though maybe you’ve already worked it out) that this is structurally a SHORT CUTS/MAGNOLIA sort of film where they tell (depending on your point of view) several inter-related stories or one big but fractured story. CITY RATS, with it abysmal title and low-level cast, is not in that league, but it’s an interesting film in its own right. Although the lives are connected in various ways (some of the connections obvious, some a bit pat, though it’s generally a matter of X being Y’s ex, etc.), they aren’t the main focus of the film. What matters is the four main stories. But do they all work?

    The short answer is no. They all need more time to unfold, they come across almost as sketches but we need a portrait. There’s a great deal left unsaid (which is good) but a lot that’s unexplored (which isn’t). Like, why is it that the most annoying and least credible character (the so-called artist) also seems to be the connecting point for most of the others? Hassan and Buring seem to be having marginally too nice a time to convince as imminent suicide risks, and the story of the gay brothers doesn’t really go anywhere. Meanwhile Danny Dyer stars in the film’s most melodramatic storyline, which feels like it should be in another film entirely.

    However, if you view it as a mood piece, CITY RATS (abysmal title) does work quite well, as long as you’re happy to watch a mostly (though not exclusively) miserable film. It’s a bit like Michael Winterbottom’s gloomy WONDERLAND, but slightly more fun. And it’s an actors’ film. Unfortunately they’re not all up to it. It’s good to see Tamer Hassan playing against type, but he needed to let his voice be just a tiny shade coarser. And I only realised that the autistic deaf gay bloke was played by James Lance at exactly the moment when you would least wish to recognise James Lance, so I think that’s a compliment. But it’s only executive producer Ray Panthaki who really lets the side down. As the tedious obsessed deluded artist and prostitute-rescuer extraordinaire he should have been quite fun, but instead he’s wooden and clueless. Susan Lynch is the best performer here, and it’s a shame she doesn’t get more to do (or any other actors to play against). Kenny Doughty is OK but one-dimensional, and James Lance does a good job. Myanna Buring seems subdued rather than on the brink (though maybe that’s the point). Natasha Williams is gnomically sphinxish, and Danny Dyer is for the most part agreeably understated, though he sometimes has an occasional theatrical gasp.

    CITY RATS (terrible title) is worth a look, just so long as you’re not under any illusions about it being a violent gangster thriller. It’s a sketch of loneliness, alienation, loss and isolation. But (bizarrely I suppose) I just wish there was more of it. Each story had huge potential but we’re left with snapshots. It’s like the viewer has been a butterfly flitting between the various strands, and we’re left frustrated but still intrigued.

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