An 'A' for Plan B

Fri, Jun 8, 2012, 01:00

Directed by Ben Drew. Starring Riz Ahmed, Nathalie Press, Mem Freda, Dannielle Brent 18 cert, limited release, 121 min

THIS PLAN B is clearly no dope. For his directorial debut, the rapper and soul singer has returned to Forest Gate – his old, ahem, manor in east London – to tell a tale that, in its bleakness, at least, recalls the work of another polymath from the city’s eastern reaches. Ill Manors is not quite in the same league as Gary Oldman’s Nil by Mouth. But, like that film, it reeks of hard work and a desire to speak the truth.

Indeed, Ben Drew, as Plan B’s granny knows him, asserts that everything in the film actually happened: he either heard the story or culled it from a newspaper report. The film cobbles the campfire tales together into a cleverly knitted, impressively cohesive whole.

Ed, an aggressive drug dealer, plans to sell a baby. The same reprobate forces an addicted sex worker to repeatedly turn tricks when she appears to rob his mobile phone. Meanwhile, Aaron (the consistently excellent Riz Ahmed), Ed’s brother, makes desperate efforts to do the right thing.

In an innovation that somehow manages to avoid becoming a gimmick, Drew keeps flashing back to show his subjects as children. For all the violence and depravity on display, the director still retains an encouraging – almost sweet – affection for his characters. Everyone is some sort of victim.

Drew brings just the right amount of flash to his direction. Scoring some stories to his own songs (the film could almost be called a musical), he employs split screen, freeze frame and camera- phone footage.

But Ill Manors, largely cast with non-professionals, is, for the most part, an astonishingly impressive exercise in hip neo-realism. One doesn’t want to stereotype the rapper community, but this particular exponent looks to have watched new Romanian cinema more often than he sat through Scarface. A brief, nicely worked cameo by John Cooper Clarke, the inestimable pre-punk poet, only adds to the pleasures of a hugely impressive debut.

Mr Drew could, if so minded, comfortably abandon the day job. Who knew?