This is the beginning of a new feature here at Riding the Whirlwind.
It's my NETFLIX PICK OF THE WEEK.
It's pretty self-explanatory. Every Wednesday, I'll recommended one movie that's available on Netflix Instant Stream, a movie that I saw (either on Netflix or somewhere else) that made me want to find the nearest megaphone and announce to the world that there was something great out there to be watched. And since I don't have a megaphone, and I'm living in that 21st century*, I'll have to use my blog.
*Doing something mean to it.
This week's film is called This is England.
(Directed by Shane Meadows, 2006)
This is a great film. The kind of movie that makes you feel the whole spectrum of emotions, but, if you're like me, it will, more than anything, excite you and encourage you about modern cinema, and the future of filmmaking.
MILD SPOILERS FOLLOW
This is England is set in 1983, in a nondescript, unimportant town in the middle of England. The central character is a young boy named Shaun, played by a young actor named Thomas Turgoose. In the first few minutes of the film, we learn that Shaun's father was recently killed in the Falklands War. His mother doesn't make a lot of money. The other kids at school pick on him for being small and wearing out-of-date clothes. No one understands his anger at the world. Nobody can sense the loneliness he feels every morning walking to school by himself, and every night, as he lies himself to sleep.
Things start to change when Shaun comes across of group of older kids. They dress funny too, but they don't seem to mind, or even realize it. After a few jokes and wisecracks, they initiate him into their group. They accept him, because they see he has a good heart and is in need of some protectors. They're older than he is, but that doesn't matter. They're not all the same, one of them is black, some of them are girls, but that doesn't matter either. They spend afternoons hanging out in fields and playing games in abandoned buildings. They get him some new clothes, introduce him to new music. They become his first real friends. And he becomes one of them.
But what Shaun has become is a skinhead.
And he's become a skinhead at the exact moment just before the skinhead movement -- originally about working class pride, music, and non-comformity -- became co-opted by radical right wing racists and neo-Nazis. And now the time has come when Shaun, along with all of his friends, must decide where he will stand, what he will allow himself to become a part of it.
This is an intensely human film. These people, these performances -- especially the incredible Thomas Turgoose, only 13 at the time of filming, and Stephen Graham, giving what may be one of the performances of the decade -- do not, for even the briefest of moments, feel like movie characters. The writing, the direction, the recreation of 1980s Britain -- these elements hardly even register at all while watching the film, so deep and organic is the feeling this film creates during its runtime. It is only after it is over, after you've let the film soak over you, that the quality of the artistry behind this movie become apparent.
Why is it that this film was not championed more by critics and film reporters in 2006, at least stateside? Perhaps the American media was too worried that the film would not appeal to a non-English audience. If so, their fears were misplaced, as the spirit behind This is England is a human one, not an English one. Though rooted it is an a particular time and place, This is England gains universality through the clear, acute sense of time and space that writer/director Shane Meadows understands and communicates to the viewer. It avoids vagueness and seeks out specificity, and in doing so, does not limit its effect, but instead magnifies it, telling the story of a brief period of one boy's life, sharing even his soul to the audience, and in doing so, speaks to the soul of the world.
P.S. : I can't make any promises about whether future posts in this feature will be any longer or shorter.
P.P.S. : Part 2 of my Friday Night Lights series will be coming soon.