Review by Robert Mann.
He was awarded the 2003 Laurence Olivier Theatre Award for Most Promising Newcomer of 2002 for his performance in Where Do We Live at the Royal Court Theatre and British actor/writer/director has certainly lived up to his promise in the years since, having demonstrated his acting skills in a range of British film productions and successfully breaking out into the world of screenwriting with the critically acclaimed Kidulthood and direction with that film’s follow up, Adulthood. Now, in his second attempt at both writing and directing (and, in this case, producing as well), Clarke is really upping the ante with a bigger scale and a bigger cast. 126.96.36.199 is certainly an ambitious project for Clarke but bigger isn’t always better as this film demonstrates.
While Jo (Emma Roberts) is chained down in a dead end supermarket job, her friends are all out on their own separate adventures. Cassandra (Tamsin Egerton) is jetting off to New York to meet her internet boyfriend, Kerrys (Shanika Warren-Markland) is on a one woman crusade fighting for female liberation and Shannon (Ophelia Lovibond) is on a one-way trip to meet her maker. But a chance encounter with some diamond thieves sends their separate worlds on a collision course with not only each other, but fate itself. These four girls are about to have three days they will never forget – if they survive, that is.
188.8.131.52 is a film based around four female friends. So far, so Sex and the City, but whereas that film is all glitz, glamour and sophistication, this one is raw, real and gritty, down and dirty. This is an edgy streetwise thriller that is presented in the form of four different but interconnecting stories that show the events of the three days from each of the girls’ own perspectives. Based on the marketing for this film you might be expecting a heist movie of sorts but the heist element is minimal, the bigger picture of the diamond theft itself only being alluded to in a series of TV news reports that appear throughout the film, each of the perspectives we see being more about the girls themselves and their personal issues than their role in the wider picture. Individually, each of the stories work pretty well. Shannon’s tale of isolation and loneliness and subsequent descent into depression following a series of traumatic events none of her friends will talk to her about is relatable and Ophelia Lovibond’s performance of her as a very troubled and vulnerable individual completely convinces, the actress capturing the character’s disturbed mental state and inner turmoil perfectly.
Cassandra’s tale also makes a strong impact, also serving as a poignant cautionary tale, her discovery that her internet boyfriend is actually an obsessed stalker being an all too realistic, believable and sad revelation. Playing against type somewhat, Tamsin Egerton’s performance perfectly captures the shock and horror of her character at the discovery and subsequent emotional breakdown, and continues to convince as her character sets out to enact vengeance. The other stories prove somewhat less successful but still work pretty well. Kerrys’ tale is one of a desire for acceptance by her father (well played by an almost unrecognisable Alexander Siddig) as her romance with lesbian partner Jas (Sussanah Fielding) and tendency to get into trouble alienates her from her family. Shanika Warren-Markland convincingly portrays her as a tough, independent and streetwise young woman who is more than capable of holding her own in a fight. The final story, probably the least interesting of the four but also the most pertinent to the overall diamond theft plot, is that of Jo, a pushover who is growing tired of doing what everyone else wants her to do and getting nothing in return and finally aserts herself when her overnight job at a store lands her in the middle of a robbery orchesrated by corrupt store manager Tee (Noel Clarke) and diamond thief Kelly (Michelle Ryan). Emma Roberts plays the part well but the character has the least baggage of the four and consequently, Roberts has much less to work with than her co-stars.
These stories work on their own terms (although less so the last one due to its tying into the wider plot more so) and the intricate plot unfolds well, the links between the stories tying in to each other with precision, but while the links between the stories are evident, the stories also feel rather disconnected and the result is a rather random feel to the overall film. A major problem is that the whole diamond theft element of the story hardly features for the most part, the manner in which the girls become involved being quite clever admittedly but the diamond theft aspect of the story more often than not being a distraction from the main focus of the girl’s individual stories rather than seamlessly interweaving with them. Perhaps, the whole diamond theft part of the story is actually unnecessary as, with the exception of the final story, it seems to have little significant impact on the characters themselves. This isn’t to say that the film is all bad. From a technical standpoint, it is actually pretty well made with good editing and cinematography, the handheld camera work giving the film a suitably raw, realistic and edge look and feel. Also, directors Noel Clarke (who also wrote and produced the film) and Mark Davis create a distinct air of tension at times without resorting to cheap tricks or gimmicks. The violence, sex and nudity is rather gratuitous at times but the directors do at least know not to overdo it and what we see certainly seems realistic.
The film also gains much realism from the writing as, while the stories don’t entirely gel together, the dialogue is sharp and seems very true to life. However, as a whole, these technical proficiencies are not enough to overcome the film’s flaws, which also include the underuse of cast member Mandy Patinkin and apperances by Kevin Smith and Eve that just seem bizarre. So, overall 184.108.40.206 is not a film without a film without its merits but the mix of things that it tries to pull off just doesn’t quite work and the result is a film that is watchable but not unmisabble. My rating is 4…3…2.5.