Barnaby Blackburn’s BAFTA nominated short film follows Wale, a young man trying to move past his mistakes and make something of himself, only to have his every effort thwarted.
Wale is a perfect example of both the positives and negatives of the young offender programme. On the one hand, he really appears to have learned from the experience. He was convicted at a young age for handling stolen goods but spent him time training as a mechanic, and now seems genuinely determined to make something of himself and earn some honest money.
On the other hand, Wale hasn’t been remotely prepared for the real world. Despite his mature mind-set, he’s still a naive teenager. With his record, he’s not able to apply for jobs in the traditional sense, so he finds himself unsuccessfully handing out business cards to strangers who don’t even acknowledge him. His past also leaves him vulnerable to a stranger who sees a clear opportunity to take advantage of him.
Raphel Famotibe’s central performance is a notable highlight. At first, he appears somewhat wooden, but as he eases into the role and Wale has to deal with the many shocks that come his way, he really comes out of his shell as a performer with a clear range.
Jamie Sives has the opposite effect. His performance is extremely disconcerting to begin with, as we the audience are suspicious of his actions but blissfully unaware of quite how deep it goes. As the plot develops, his performance becomes somewhat melodramatic. He appears no more than a cliché villain with a master plan, and any potential depth to his character falls away very quickly.
The simple truth is that as Sives fades, Famotibe begins to shine, and it’s his performance that really impresses by the time the credits roll.
One of the strongest directorial decisions Blackburn makes in the film is his clever use of wide shots and close-ups as the story’s tension builds. Wale initially feels a clear sense of freedom, but the camera edges closer and closer to his face as he begins to feel increasingly trapped in an unavoidable situation.
The audience is made aware of the environment in which Wale lives from very early on. An opening montage demonstrates the struggle in the local area, while Wale’s past hovers around in the form of his old friends, ready to tempt him back into the fold at any given time.
Tension builds superbly throughout, anchored by a terrific score from Luis Almau, as we can sense there is clearly something very dodgy going on, yet when the moment arrives we are completely unprepared for it. Blackburn is always ready to surprise his viewers, but no moment feels misplaced or extreme.
‘Wale’ is a tense and unpredictable thriller with some particularly interesting themes at the heart of it. It’s well-directed and the story is told with a great deal of intelligence and wit. It’s not perfect, with a slow start and a strange performance from Sives, but on the whole it’s a mostly suspenseful watch that showcases both Blackburn and Famotibe as talents to watch.
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