The fallout from last year’s London riots was extensive, with people quick to provide reasons for the violence that occurred not just in the capital but, in smaller pockets, across the UK.
Director Ron Scalpello’s debut film, Offender, begins with the shocking scene of a young man, Tommy (Joe Cole, Skins), being arrested after beating up two police officers as the riots ignite around him on London’s streets. Via skilfully executed flashback, we learn that Tommy has landed himself in jail on purpose, his mind set on revenge against the man who beat up his pregnant girlfriend, resulting in the loss of their child.
Whilst Offender isn’t blind to the pointless violence perpetrated during the riots (largely filmed here with handheld cameras), it has a similarly bleak view of the young offenders’ institutions that its characters are committed to. If Tommy’s reasons for landing himself behind bars affords him a latent sympathy that appears to sidestep the issue, the supporting characters are well-drawn and believable, from swaggering bad guy Jake (rapper English Frank), Mason (Tyson Oba), who turns to Islam in the hope of forgiveness, and shyly smart cellmate Harry (Malachi Kirby).
Although the character of an unrepentant bent prison officer risks stretching the material too thinly, Offender provides a nice through-line in Tommy’s dogged pursuit of vengeance. Joe Cole gives an impressive, hollowed-out performance in the lead role, one that increases in shaky intensity as he loses himself in his quest. But what really stands out is Offender’s depiction of characters involved in and affected by the riots. It’s a surprisingly comprehensive look at the lives of young criminals, in particular their sense of isolation and disenchantment with a corrupt system.
By Ben Fowler
Offender will be released in the UK on 8 August.