January 14, 2014

Lerman's 14 For '14 Day Nine: DOWN TERRACE Is Lean, Violent, And Funny

"It's not the decisions that are tough, Bill.  It's the actions."
Ben Wheatley is a name I've heard buzzing around my head for the past few years.  He's a British director, mostly specializing in dark comedies, that has yet to experience the same kind of breakout success here in the states as the likes of fellow countrymen Edgar Wright, Matthew Vaughn or Guy Ritchie.  But he's only got a handful of films under his belt and it feels like that success is almost inevitable at this point.  I've been meaning to watch his two big successes for a while now and sadly I've yet to capitalize on plenty of opportunity; Kill List has been streaming on Netflix for months and Sightseers played at the Brattle last year, but it was a single showing on a night when I was out of town.  Hopefully I'll be able to squeeze one or both of them in before my final deadline.  Wheatley's latest film, the psychedelic period piece A Field In England, will get a VOD and limited theatrical release in early February courtesy of the fine folks over at Drafthouse Films.

Down Terrace was Wheatley's big screen debut and it's a real cracker of a story.  A sublime mixture of family drama and crime humor, the film plays almost like The Sopranos if that show were actually a comedy about a dysfunctional family of borderline inept criminals.  Much of the film is left deliberately opaque; the story opens with Bill and his grown son Karl (real life father and son Robert and Robin Hill) getting out of prison for a crime that is never specified.  Bill is the head of a small time criminal enterprise, although their precise racket is never actually specified.  But none of those details are really all that important to the plot.  It could be drugs, prostitution, dwarf-tossing...the specifics are immaterial.  All that matters is that business is bad, the family is in trouble and there is a traitor somewhere in their midst.  And what's worse, Karl's ex-girlfriend shows up pregnant!  Womp womp!   The tone is never as sitcom-y as it might sound on paper, but that doesn't change the actual events of the day.  Seriously, at one point a hitman shows up to do a job with his three year old son in tow because he couldn't get a sitter.

But don't take that as a criticism though.  The shit is hilarious.

The cast is all pretty strong, but Julia Deakin is absolutely magnetic as Maggie, the quiet and menacing Lady Macbeth of the family.  For all of Bill's posturing and Karl's complaining, it's only Maggie that seems to have a proper knack for the business and knows how to get shit done.  Deakin should be a familiar face to fans of Edgar Wright's Spaced series (she played Marsha) as well as his Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy, albeit it in smaller roles.  I'd love to see Wheatley give her some truly meaty stuff somewhere down the line.

What's The Connection?  Bloody Sunday takes place almost entirely on a Sunday (obviously) and the giant onscreen title tells us that Down Terrace starts on a Monday.  Feels like a stretch, but it's all that I've got.  (I thought that perhaps DT also had a lot of killing happen on a Sunday, but it didn't match up.)

Up Next:  Dog Pound

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Title: Down Terrace
Director: Ben Wheatley
Starring: Robert Hill, Robin Hill, Julia Deakin, David Schaal, Tony Way, Kerry Peacock, Michael Smiley
Year Of Release: 2010
Viewing Method: Netflix Instant