Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Criminals - Filmhouse - 3/2/10

Here in Britain there is much debate over whether our society is broken or not.

Political parties present argument and counter-argument about what is good, what is bad and what is ugly in our communities. It's difficult to properly assess exactly what, if anything, has gone wrong. Maybe we have always had violent, brutal and vindictive people in our communities and maybe there are as many, if not more, "good" people doing good things but they don't shift copy or attract viewers in the same numbers.

In "Criminals" director Joseph Strick decides to let the criminals speak for themselves so we hear first hand testimony from prostitutes, burglars, rapists, child abusers and murderers. They tell their tales direct to the camera or, in some instances, to police officers or attorneys in interview rooms. We even see one murderer retrace his footsteps and actions at the scene of a crime under the supervision of investigators. In addition we see footage of Church elders stealing from collection bowls, young men filming themselves battering and then urinating on innocent passers-by and people holding up drugstores.

There is also a haunting narration written by Pullitzer Prize winning poet C.K Williams which poses questions about the world that has created these crimes and those who have perpetrated them. It is a powerful piece of work and one which sits perfectly with the horrors on screen.

Strick is a director who is adventurous, fearless and bold...this is the man who brought James Joyce "Ulysses" to the screen, something many thought impossible (before and after seeing his film) and that sense of fearlessness in particular is evident here. Strick doesn't condemn or condone. He refuses to use music to damn or to elicit sympathy. Here crime and the criminals are simply laid bare before us and the result is a film that forces us to think and, on more than one occasion, to shrink from the words we are hearing.

I cannot remember another film which terrified me as much as this. It is genuinely horrifying. When a rapist describes his thoughts, feelings and motivations for his crime (committed only hours before his interview one assumes) it leaves one feeling a deep sense of dread and revulsion. There are moments when you are forced to think about whether the "system" has created some of these people and to reflect on what could be done to improve the lot of so many...images of urban decay remind us of the poverty of the physical and emotional environment so many people live in. Equally there are times when one feels that one would be happy to pull the lever.

Not a pleasant viewing experience. Not a film that will be broadcast on terrestrial television any time soon. Not a film to snuggle under the blankets and "enjoy". Despite that I am glad that I have seen it and I am glad that there is a film maker honest enough to produce it.

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