'Brotherhood': Film Review

Brotherhood - Still - H - 2016
Unstoppable Entertainment
An overfamiliar tale of middle-aged boyz in the ‘hood.

Noel Clarke returns to his West London roots to write, direct and star in this Toronto-bound sequel to 'Kidulthood' and 'Adulthood.'

Aiming for a mix of Spike Lee and Mike Leigh, Brotherhood is the concluding chapter in Noel Clarke’s trilogy of gritty London crime dramas. A depressingly rare example of a commercially successful black British filmmaker, Clarke (Doctor Who, Star Trek Into Darkness) drew on his own West London background to create this low-budget franchise.

The first two films were no masterpieces, but earned a tidy profit domestically. Though more polished than its predecessors, Brotherhood is just as flawed and formulaic. Even so, it is already doing handsome business on limited U.K. release ahead of its North American festival debut at the Toronto International Film Festival next week.

A decade ago, Clarke scripted and co-starred in the first chapter in the trilogy, Kidulthood (2006). He played Sam Peel, a volatile wannabe gangster who murders a fellow teenager with a baseball bat. Two years later, he returned as writer, director and star in Adulthood (2008), which caught up with a remorseful Sam as he left prison and struggled to mend his ways. In Brotherhood, Sam is now a 40-ish family man with a devoted partner Kayla (Shanika Warren-Markland), two young children and a nice house in a smart neighborhood. He still has anger management issues, but they appear to be under control.

Inevitably, as in most movies about ex-cons trying to go straight, Sam’s violent past comes back to haunt him. The first warning comes when his younger brother Royston (Daniel Anthony), an aspiring R&B singer, is shot while singing onstage. Soon afterwards, a beautiful stranger (Skyfall veteran Tonia Sotiropoulou) coerces Sam into no-strings sex, an implausible male fantasy that later proves dramatically significant. Joining forces with his brother’s friend Henry (Arnold Oceng), Sam tracks down the gunmen to a fancy West London mansion, where a cocky young gangster called Daley (the film’s co-producer Jason Maza) seems to be hosting a perpetual orgy surrounded by tooled-up thugs and naked sex workers.

After a failed bid to recruit Sam to his gang, Daley resorts to blackmail and menacing his family. Also lurking vengefully in the wings is an old enemy from earlier in the trilogy, Uncle Curtis (Cornell John, overacting hysterically). When macho threats cross the line into murder, Sam has all the dramatic justification he needs to unleash a roaring rampage of revenge. Bizarrely, despite all the self-mocking jokes about his advancing years and receding hairline, this timid family man suddenly becomes a Bruce Willis-style ninja warrior overnight.

Featuring a lively soundtrack of contemporary British hip-hop, grime and R&B (rising U.K. rap star Michael “Stormzy” Omari acquits himself well in a small role), Clarke’s film is refreshing in its insider’s depiction of a multiracial London that rarely figures on the big screen. Anglophiles across the globe also will savor close encounters with beloved Ladbroke Grove landmarks like the iconic Trellick Tower and the Westway urban highway.

Technically slick but psychologically shallow, Brotherhood is a functional crime thriller with a light sprinkling of social commentary. Subtlety and wit are not Clarke’s forte, but he does offer a few shrewd observations on generational shifts in London street slang, the creeping class war of urban gentrification and damaging racial stereotypes. “Look at us, what are we doing?” Sam protests during his climactic showdown with Uncle Curtis. “Two black men fighting in the street again!”

Sadly, Brotherhood also is overstuffed with third-hand gangster-movie clichés, lifeless dialogue, ham-fisted humor and gratingly familiar stereotypes. The women get an especially raw deal, mostly presented either as pornographic sex objects or passive punching bags for bullying men. The take-home message, about how bad boys from the ‘hood can find redemption by growing up into responsible husbands and fathers, is banal but clearly personal for Clarke. This trilogy has helped make him a star, but not a great filmmaker.

Production companies: Unstoppable Entertainment, Carpalla Films
Cast: Noel Clarke, Shanika Warren-Markland, Jason Maza, Arnold Oceng, Cornell John, Tonia Sotiropoulou, Daniel Anthony, Lashana Lynch, David Ajala, Rosa Coduri, Michael Omari
Director-screenwriter: Noel Clarke
Producers: Noel Clarke, Jason Maza, Maggie Monteith, Gina Powell
Cinematographer: Aaron Reid
Editor: Tommy Boulding
Music: Tom Linden
Sales: Lionsgate

Not rated, 105 minutes