'Looted': Film Review

Looted Films Ltd.
Not so grand theft auto.

Rene Pannevis draws on his own life story in this gritty coming-of-age debut about a gang of car thieves in an English coastal town.

A desperate young car thief takes too many wrong turnings in Looted, the semiautobiographical debut feature of London-based Dutch director Rene Pannevis. Expanding on his award-winning 2015 short Jacked, which featured the same headline stars, Pannevis combines elements of social realism, crime thriller and coming-of-age character study in this lyrical low-budget drama. Looted world premiered at Black Nights film festival in Tallinn last week, where it was awarded the FIPRESCI prize by a jury of international critics.

Shot in just 17 days on a minimal budget, Looted occasionally strains too hard for a poignancy and depth that it cannot deliver. That said, Pannevis couches this hard-knock story in alluringly sunny, dreamy visuals that belie its bleak underclass milieu. He also marshals a compelling young cast led by Charley Palmer Rothwell (Dunkirk), Thomas Turgoose (This is England) and Vikings co-star Morgane Polanski, the daughter of Roman Polanski and Emmanuelle Seigner. Following its Tallinn premiere, further festival bookings and modest theatrical prospects seem likely.

Looted is bookended with poetic maritime imagery that mirror the rose-tinted wanderlust memories of Oswald (Tom Fisher), a former merchant seaman who was on the far side of the world when his son Rob (Rothwell) was born. But fast forward 21 years and Rob is now an aimless petty thief stuck in a dead-end English coastal town, his potential stifled by poverty and bad luck.

On the streets, Rob steals cars with his loose-cannon best friend Leo (Turgoose) at the behest of local minor crime boss Amir (Daniel-John Williams). But back at home, he reverts to caring for his bedridden father Oswald, no longer a globe-trotting voyager on the high seas but a heartbroken widower dying before his time of asbestos-related lung disease. The two men share a tense, resentful relationship, but Rob also takes the trouble to shield his vulnerable father with white lies, reassuring him with reports of fake job interviews and hiding letters denying him the compensation payoff he has long been expecting to soothe his final weeks.

After reluctantly allowing Leo to recruit him into a high-stakes car theft, Rob lands himself in dangerously deep water, incarcerated in a prison cell while his father needs urgent medical attention at home. Shamed and exposed, this aging juvenile delinquent finds himself at a crucial crossroads, with serious crime in one direction and the more difficult path toward redemption in the other. But Leo's long-suffering girlfriend, kind-hearted Polish immigrant Kasia (Polanski), seems to offer Rob an unlikely lifeline, helping to heal the frayed bonds between wayward son and dying father before it becomes too late.

Looted has personal resonance for Pannevis, who grew up with car thieves as friends and cared for his own father as he died from asbestos-related cancer at 58. Perhaps his emotional connection to this material makes him blind to its flaws, notably a scrappy plot and dialogue that often feels like badly translated second-language English..That said, the film is still an engaging overall package, with its sun-drenched color scheme, gritty thriller sequences and attractive young cast. The strikingly handsome Rothwell already looks like a future headline star, while Turgoose brings a reliably raw blue-collar authenticity as ever.

Whether by accident or design, Looted also feels like a timely snapshot of Britain's current Brexit crisis, despite never referencing it once. The shooting location is Hartlepool, an impoverished post-industrial town in north-eastern England, part of a large rust-belt region that voted heavily to leave the European Union. The bleak lifestyle choices depicted here, hemmed in by minimum-wage jobs and ingrained inequality, were key drivers behind the pro-Brexit vote. These newsworthy factors could help give the film more marketable purchase on big and small screen.

Venue: Black Nights Film Festival, Tallinn
Production companies: Silk Screen Pictures, Thought Experiment, Film London Microwave
Cast: Charley Palmer Rothwell, Thomas Turgoose, Tom Fisher, Morgane Polanski, Anders Hayward
Director: Rene Pannevis
Screenwriters: Rene Pannevis, Kefi Chadwick
Cinematographer: Aadel Nodeh-Farahani
Editors: Christian Sandino-Taylor, Dave Silver
Producers: Jennifer Eriksson, Jessie Mangum
Music: Tony Coote, Philip Achille
Sales contact: Looted Films Limited
89 minutes