County Lines’ introductory scene impressively sets the tone of the entire film, sat in a one-to-one counsellor meeting, Tyler (Conrad Khan) is asked to define the term acceptable loss, unable to understand the question, or simply just dismissive of it, the young man is ultimately informed that the acceptable loss in his current profession is his own life.
Stepping in the footsteps of BFI greats such as Saul Dibb’s Bullet Boy (2004), County Lines is a tragic and cruel coming of age story, revealing the underbelly of London’s drug trafficking crisis and the exploitation of vulnerable teens. Dark and emotional, it bears all of its scars with It’s shocking and terrifyingly realistic violence making it heartbreaking and difficult to digest, made even more brutal by the protagonist’s young age.
Tyler (Conrad Khan) is a quiet 14-year-old attending a rough inner-city school in London. After his single mother Toni (Ashley Madekwe) loses her job, the teen gets coerced into becoming a pawn for a county lines drug operation to provide for his mother and younger sister.
The job forces the young man to travel out of London with a stash of heroin, meeting up with dangerous individuals connected to the drug trade to help create drug networks in smaller towns and suburbs connected to London via train links.
It’s a sombre story all too relatable for many young teens within the UK, County Lines is triumphant at shining light on a far-reaching yet lesser-known crisis which is ruining the lives of many families and young adults.
The performance of Conrad Khan playing Tyler is incredibly moving. An absolute gem of the film, Khan manages to encapsulate a confused young-man reaching out for a guiding father figure. Displaying a full rainbow of emotions, caring for his younger sister yet menacing and malicious towards his mother, his metamorphosis into a low-end street thug has you internally screaming for him to get on the right path as he ignores the constant offers of help.
Director Henry Blake succeeds in his attempt to create a hard-hitting problem piece, it’s barbaric and arduous, yet vital in its portrayal of realistic gang violence and drug trafficking within Britain’s borders.
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