City Rats Review: Sans City
With the decision to hold the 2012 Olympic Games in London, and the city authorities desperate to convince the world that London is a gleaming, sanitary oasis of decorum and love, now might not be the best time to debut City Rats – Steve M Kelly’s dark tale of sleaze, filth, drug abuse, prostitution, suicide, alcoholism, and despair.
Don’t get me wrong, City Rats is no bad film. In fact it’s a breath of fresh air, even if that breath does belong to a festering gum-diseased crack addict with cancerous chest phlegm.
Cinematographer Adam Levins triumphs in his artful transformation of London into a brooding monochrome fairytale land where tired, broken people grope around in the gloom of existence searching for salvation in one another. From rooftops, Levins captures stunning vistas of a beautifully battered city rising out of the grimy streets where down below eight people’s lives intersect over the course of one hot day.
In terms of this being British cinema’s answer to Pulp Fiction, City Rats falls well short of the mark. But then again that’s an awfully tall order from a director making his cinematic debut. What City Rats does have is some fine performances from a large ensemble cast, slick direction and a few darkly comic moments you know you shouldn’t find funny.
Among the cast of misfits and loners that populate the city is office worker Jim who, after hanging up from his daily conversation with phone sex operator Gina, decides to kill himself. Meanwhile Gina, a disabled prostitute living in a dilapidated tenement, gets a strange request from impotent artist neighbour Dean. At the same time one of Dean’s ex-pupils, Olly, is searching for a rent boy to take the virginity of his deaf mute 15-year-old autistic brother.
Which all begs the question: what is British cinema’s obsession with self-consciously eccentric characters?
Fortunately, Danny Dyer is on hand to divert attention away from the massive plot improbabilities with a solid, believable and nicely understated performance as Pete. Pete lives a sad downtrodden existence flipping (and occasionally spitting into) burgers. He’s an ex-junkie, with problems enough of his own, (“I’m not an alcoholic, alcoholics go to meetings. I’m a drunk”) until Carol turns up looking for her missing son. Oh, and don’t ask how she got pregnant…
City Rats is a nice attempt for a first film but in his quest to recreate the artistic vision of Sin City , Kelly seems to have sacrificed narrative substance for style.
Which is all very well until you begin wonder, what’s the point?