[Please note: While referred to by its original title, ‘Wasteland’, throughout this review, the film described below is now entitled ‘The Rise’. We apologise for any confusion caused. -Ed. (09/07/2013)]
What can I say about Wasteland, really? It’s a gritty, dramatic, mind-bending film. It features what seems to be half the cast of Harry Potter – well, Matthew Lewis and Timothy Spall, at any rate – but will not at any point allow you to think of any of its characters as ‘Neville’. And it picks up with our protagonist, bruised and bleeding, in a police interview room, being told he’d better have a really good explanation for having breached his probation order.
Directed by Rowan Athale, Wasteland follows Harvey Denton’s (Luke Treadaway) story of the remarkable chain of events that have led him to be sitting across from DI West (Timothy Spall), talking to a tape recorder. We go back with him to his release from prison, a month earlier, and his reunion with his friends Dempsey (Iwan Rheon), Dodd (Matthew Lewis) and Charlie (Gerard Kearns). We learn about the circumstances that led to his imprisonment in the first place… and we discover how far they’re all willing to go to make things right.
It’s a heist film, but not like any heist film I’ve seen in a long time. It’s more than just the story of a series of obstacles to be navigated, it’s genuinely clever and, despite some pretty disturbing situations, often funny. Indeed, along with Good Vibrations, this was one of the more upbeat films in the competition at Dinard. It’s an underdog film with a lot of heart, and by the time it reached the heist itself, I was completely emotionally invested and caught up in the action. You can’t help but root for these guys, especially given their obviously close friendship and deeply touching loyalty to each other.
Right, so before I go babbling on and reveal the whole plot – oh, but Sherlock fans, you’ll enjoy this film – I’d better get down to looking at some of the technical stuff. The narrative style’s engaging and well carried by Treadaway, who is responsible for keeping the audience clued in. It’s an unusual way of structuring a film of this genre, but it’s refreshing and not uncomfortable. The special effects are good – pyrotechnics, I’m looking at you – and the general look of the film’s great. There are some really striking shots, so if you’re looking for pretty compositions this is a film you should see. Which is really saying something seeing as it’s all set on a bit of a rubbish estate.
There’s a lot of humour in the film, as I’ve mentioned – there’s a particularly good bit when Harvey’s explaining how his nemesis Steven Roper (Neil Maskell) gets away with his dodgy activities – but there are also some shocking moments and some real horror. One in particular, early on, ensures that we understand just how serious the drama of the film is – it’s not just a bunch of 20-somethings making a big deal out of nothing. The main characters, especially Harvey, are sympathetic and feel very real. There’s some ambiguity to the ending, but not in an irritating, unresolved kind of way – I left the cinema feeling pretty good about life in general, with no nagging, lingering questions.
That’s impressive, because the last few minutes of the film will blow your mind and I found myself engaging a lot of brainpower to try to keep up with it. It was worth it. This film doesn’t miss a trick, but it doesn’t try to leave the viewer hanging – once it’s time for everything to make sense, it will. You can’t say fairer than that really.
Most importantly, I really enjoyed watching this. That’s something that often gets overlooked in reviews, but I had a really good time. So I suppose my recommendation is: if you’re looking for something clever that’ll make your heart race, that’ll make you think and that will, above all, make you grin… go and see Wasteland as soon as you possibly can. I reckon you’ll enjoy it.
I’d give this film 4 out of 5.
Eleanor Musgrove (really does recommend this to Sherlock fans especially)
This review is of a film seen at Festival du Film Britannique du Dinard, 2012. The film was in the competition.