A scraggly family of criminals tries to hold things together in the British backwoods in Trespass Against Us, the debut feature by TV and music video director Adam Smith. As the patriarch of the Cutlers, Brendan Gleeson projects a full-bodied indifference to others’ desires that seems to contain bottled-up fury. But that fury never deploys, and instead of exploding into crime-clan war, the picture trickles into a kind of shrugging, “it is what it is” look at life on the wrong side of the law. Gleeson and Michael Fassbender will ensure attention is paid in the U.S. But Stateside auds will have big problems with the thickly accented dialogue (and with lingo that even subtitles mightn’t explain) and many will find the struggle to keep up isn’t all that rewarding.
Fassbender plays Chad Cutler, son of Gleeson’s Colby, who would seem to be the sole adult male with a fully functional brain in the hunkajunk collection of camper trailers the Cutlers call home base. Theirs is a satellite of the kind of Irish-gypsy caravan underworld depicted in Guy Ritchie’s Snatch and the American film Traveler, with Colby preferring to rule his own domain and leave other families to congregate in their carny-like wagon circle elsewhere.
Col still thinks evolution’s a lie and the world is probably flat, because that’s what his dad told him, and isn’t too happy that grandson Tyson (Georgie Smith) is being taught otherwise at school. But Chad and wife Kelly (Lyndsey Marshal) want their kids to have the education illiterate Chad never got. Unbeknownst to Col, they also plan to buy a little house and move away from this messy lifestyle. (Two scenes late in the film make excellent use of Chad’s wholesome paternal drive.)
Less sloppy than the young men around him (they’re not all his brothers, surely, and they’re not exactly real movie characters, either), easygoing Chad is comfortable in the camp but not entirely of it. He barely restrains his disgust for Gordon (Sean Harris), a half-naked wild man whose idiotic stunts kill Tyson’s dog; but he hates the cops more, and enjoys a taunting relationship with Rory Kinnear’s P.C. Lovage. Lovage will get his chance to stalk his nemesis when, reluctantly pulling an impromptu job for Cal, Chad unwittingly robs the home of a rich and very important local Lord-Lieutenant.
Smith makes short work of the robbery itself, but has smash-bang fun with the nighttime chase that follows. In fact, the picture seems most alive when somebody’s driving a car — often one that has been intentionally disfigured or is about to be firebombed to distract the pigs — through a field, down a tight alley, toward or away from another participant in the chase. Here, a score by Tom Rowlands (of the Chemical Brothers, for whom Smith has made many videos) bolsters the anarchic energy, an infectious excitement that shows the hold this lifestyle might have on a man and the youngsters brought up in it.
But those scenes stand apart from others that seem to promise a reckoning, an ugly climax in which both Col and the government’s power will exact some punishment on Chad’s immediate family. The movie doesn’t play on the tension between these two moods so much as tread water between them, unsure what it wants to do to the audience. Its eventual resolution would be quite satisfying in a certain kind of on-the-run crime picture — but the ominously named Trespass Against Us isn’t really that kind of film.
Venue: Toronto International Film Festival (Special Presentations)
Production company: Albert Granville
Cast: Michael Fassbender, Brendan Gleeson, Lyndsey Marshal, Georgie Smith, Rory Kinnear, Killian Scott, Sean Harris, Kingsley Ben-Adir, Kacie Anderson, Gerard Kearns, Tony Way, Barry Keoghan
Director: Adam Smith
Screenwriter: Alastair Siddons
Producers: Alastair Siddons, Andrea Calderwood, Gail Egan
Executive producers: Joshua Astrachan, Rose Garnett, Frederick W. Green, Peter Hampden, Phil Hunt, Norman Merry, Compton Ross
Director of photography: Edu Grau
Production designer: Nick Palmer
Costume designer: Suzanne Cave
Editors: Kristina Hetherington, Jake Roberts
Composer: Tom Rowlands
Casting director: Shaheen Baig
Rated R, 99 minutes