Wasteland: Toronto Review

An engaging, intelligent, character-driven addition to the well-pillaged heist genre.

Director Rowan Athale makes his feature debut with a deconstructed heist film.

A smart, penetrating first feature by the UK’s Rowan Athale, Wasteland is a deconstructed heist film that eschews the genre’s usual quick cutting and gritty visuals in favor of a quieter, more intimate approach.

While it doesn’t exactly reinvent the wheel, it does offer a distinct way of watching it spin, with a young, fresh-faced cast to help bring it to life.

Receiving its world premiere at Toronto in its Discovery section, the film should attract some interest from indie distributors in the market for promising filmmakers.

The wasteland in question refers to the gloomily grey skies of Yorkshire, where one of its working class residents, Harvey (Luke Treadaway) is being calmly interrogated by the stoic Detective Inspector West (Timothy Spall).

Seriously bloodied and bruised, Luke recounts the chain of events that brought him to that state, starting with his being released from prison on drug possession charges.

Determined to get revenge on Roper (Neil Maskell) the sadistic drug lord who set him up for the fall, Luke enlists his mates (Iwan Rheon, Gerard Kearns and Matthew Lewis) to perpetrate the robbery of a workingmen’s club where Roper’s headquartered.

Of course, like all good heist pictures, not everything turns out to be quite as it appears, and writer-director Athale obligingly lays down the various plot twists and turns.

That he does so in a way that doesn’t blatantly conjure up the more frenetic styles of a Guy Ritchie or a Quentin Tarantino is what makes the more contemplative Wasteland such a welcome change of pace.

The approach is echoed by cinematographer Stuart Bentley’s deliberately lit visuals and the focused performances of his cast, effectively headed by the charismatic Treadaway and the always-reliable Spall, who engage in a tautly calibrated game of cat-and-mouse.

Venue: Toronto International Film Festival (MoliFilms)
Production companies: Mischief Films, Moli-Mischief
Cast: Luke Treadaway, Iwan Rheon, Gerard Kearns, Matthew Lewis, Timothy Spall
Director-screenwriter: Rowan Athale
Executive producers: Phil Hunt, Compton Ross, Norman Merry, Peter Hampden, Brad Moore, Iain Richardson
Producers: Gareth Pritchard, Ed Barratt, Mark Foligno
Director of photography: Stuart Bentley
Production designer: Chris Richmond
Music: Neil Athale
Costume designer: Lance Milligan
Editor: Kim Gaster
No rating, 106 minutes.
Sales agent: Bankside Films