Thomas Turgoose, Stephen Graham
Cynth: Why do they call ya “Smell”?
Smell: It’s kind of similar to Michelle, if you think about it. I don’t know really, if I’m being honest with you…
Cynth: Ah…that’s fine-
Smell: It’s not because I’m smelly! It’s just, Michelle and smell…purely cause it rhymes…well, it sort of rhymes, doesn’t it? Does it rhyme?
Set in 1983, Shaun (Turgoose) – looking sort of like a very young, blond Paul McCartney – is a lonely kid being raised by his single mom after his dad died in the Falklands War. After a rough day at school, Shaun stumbles upon some older skinheads in a little tunnel who eventually befriend him and take him on as a member of their gang. They introduce him to petty crime, drugs, and girls, but the fun stops when Combo (Graham) shows up, recently released after serving 3 and 1/2 years in prison. He re-assumes leadership of the group and tries to mobilize them into joining a larger group of self-proclaimed nationalists. Combo uses Shaun’s father’s death as a way of pursuading him to follow him, even when most of the gang doesn’t want to.
I’ll say right up front that I don’t know much about this time period in England, the political climate there, and the issues that Combo rails against in the movie. I do know, however, that it’s an enjoyable movie with several moving moments and some humorous touches as well.
It begins almost like a darker version of About a Boy. You’ve got a single mom raising an oddball son (very well played by Thomas Turgoose) who gets picked on for his out of date clothes. The difference with Shaun is that he doesn’t take it as lightly as Marcus did in About a Boy. Shaun will fight back. This is one of the characteristics that Combo respects in Shaun, causing him to take him on as sort of a protégé. It’s interesting, but sad, to see Shaun – the often victim of bullying – become the bully once he has this gang backing him up. It would seem to be a case of power corrupting.
In the last third of the movie, I was disappointed a little that the story started to stray from telling Shaun’s story as some of the other characters took center stage for a while. We do get back to following Shaun again, but when it wasn’t about him, I found it to be less interesting. The characters are mostly drawn out well, though I thought Shaun’s mother could have been developed a little more. I’m not sure I bought the idea that she’d gladly just leave him in the care of much older people who obviously weren’t the best of influences, but maybe she was just that happy to see him make friends with somebody.
As I alluded to above, I don’t know what messages this movie is trying to get across, other than the power corrupts thing maybe, but I still enjoyed it. Even if just on the level of a lonely kid looking for acceptance and finding it with somebody who just wants to use him and who will ultimately just disappoint him. If there are other levels to the story, feel free to fill me in.
Never trust a scary, racist, tempermental guy who’s just spent 3 and 1/2 years in prison. I guess I probably knew that already though…
10 – 1.2 for a few hard to believe developments – .7 for meandering away from Shaun’s story for a while – .5 for a few thinly developed characters + .3 for a solid lead performance = 7.9