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Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Still: Game of Thrones' Aidan Gillen stars in a clunky Brit thriller that comes good in the end

Review

Still
Director: Simon Blake
Starring: Aidan Gillen, Jonathan Slinger, Elodie Yung
Running time: 97 mins




The final 20 minutes of director Simon Blake’s debut feature are genuinely gripping and there’s a twist you kind of see coming but that is, nevertheless, expertly dealt. Unfortunately, the preceding hour or so isn’t nearly as accomplished or interesting. Not Still so much as stilted.

Aidan Gillen plays Tom Carver, a north London photographer wracked with guilt and grief after the death of his teenage son in a hit and run, and the disintegration of his marriage to Rachel (Amanda Mealing, doing some proper acting after all those years on Holby City). He inadvertently falls foul of a thuggish gang who threaten and abuse him. These feral youths may also be linked to the murder of a local kid, something Carver’s journalist mate Ed (Jonathan Slinger) is trying to prove. Circumstances grow nastier and bleaker – Carver’s implausibly beautiful girlfriend Christina (Elodie Yung) is attacked – and suddenly we find ourselves in revenge thriller territory.

At first you groan and assume Blake is taking us at speed down the same avenues as the just plain awful Harry Brown, or perhaps riffing on Gaspar Noé's Irreversible. Mercifully, though, the writer/director proves a lot smarter than that as Still ultimately returns to what it’s really about in the first place – the corrosive, dehumanising nature of grief and how it can make good people do some very ugly things. The final shot is beyond heartbreaking.

Gillen is a fine actor; one able to slip into the shoes of Machiavellian Lord Petyr Baelish in Game of Thrones as easily as he transforms into Tommy Carcetti, The Wire’s fast-talking Baltimore politician. His performances can be broad and mannered but he’s one of those thesps whose natural charisma easily outweighs any lack of nuance. As Carver he has to play it low-key and more subdued, and I’m not sure it suits him. The creaky script doesn’t help – some scenes are over-talky and overlong, a lot of the dialogue is in need of a polish. If you’re going for naturalism, you can’t have characters saying stuff that feels “written down” and that happens here all too often. In fact, you can't do naturalism if you have characters that simply don't feel real in the first place (I'm looking at you Ed and Christina).



The best early scenes are simple two-handers featuring Carver and Rachel. There’s an ease between Gillen and Mealing – whether sharing a drink in Carver’s dilapidated London home or placing flowers on their son’s grave – that immediately establishes their characters’ history as a couple. Nothing else here quite rings as true, not Carver’s friendship with the frankly irritating Ed, or his relationship with Christina, who seems to exist purely so she can be raped as the film enters its final act. She’s little more than a clumsy and perhaps even distasteful plot device.

Blake and his cinematographer Andy Parsons do a good job with the look of the film - Still's north London is a grey, forbidding place where the shadows are long and the deep gloom is broken only by a speeding car's headlights or neon shop sign. It's all rather noirish, a feeling reinforced by a jazzy score I could probably have done without. Meanwhile, Carver's house - complete with peeling wallpaper and threadbare furniture - is the perfect visual metaphor for his turbulent state of mind. 

That Still rallies to deliver a satisfying and powerful climax is in no small part down to Sonny Green, the young rapper-turned-actor who plays street thug Carl. At first he’s the epitome of every clichéd underclass yob you’ve ever seen on film or TV, albeit one with a pleasingly unpleasant line in sneering gittishness. As Carver makes Carl the target of his vengeance we see a very different side to the character – suddenly vulnerable, terrified and really just a stupid, mouthy kid with no direction or future. I wonder if Still may have more successful had it focussed on him and his life, and pushed everyone else into the background.

Rating: WW

Still is currently showing in UK cinemas and is available on various streaming services including Virgin Movies

Ratings

WWWW = Wonderful
WWW = Worthwhile
WW = Watchable
W = Woeful

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