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The Disappearance Of Alice Creed (2009,UK)

26/09/2011

Director: J Blakeson         Starring: Gemma Arterton, Eddie Marsan, Martin Compston

I’ve never really understood the appeal of kidnapping as a crime. Ok, if you select the right victim you could stand to make a lot of money but the effort and risks involved really start to outweigh the possibility of a momentous pay day. The actual abduction and imprisonment phase of the operation wouldn’t be too difficult with the right preparation but the critical point of any kidnapping plan is the the exchange itself, when the victim is returned to their loved ones and the kidnappers make off with sacks of loot. There is a long and glorious tradition of kidnappings going tits up in the movies (the Coen Brother’s stupendous Fargo being one of my favourites) and The Disappearance Of Alice Creed is a fine addition to the genre.

Alice (Arterton) finds herself in the hands of two ex-cons, Vic (Marsan) and Danny (Compston), intent on taking her rich father to the tune of two million quid in exchange for her safe return. The operation has been meticulously planned to the last detail but as the plan unfolds so do their personal agendas, threatening to unravel their perfect crime.

I once read a review of an assembly line Danny Dyer film called Devil’s Playground in a local newspaper that laid out its intentions to mindlessly slag it off in its opening lines before following up with all the reasons why it was so bad. Top of the list? “Firstly,” it enthused “it’s British and cheaply made”. Now, granted, I don’t doubt Devil’s Playground is pretty poor and hardly need a review to tell me so but I found the suggestion that it was due to it being a low budget British film utterly offensive.

Alice Creed is evidence of what British filmmakers can do on a shoestring budget. It’s a taught, brisk thriller that knows what it wants to achieve from the outset and by staging the action more or less in a single location invokes a sense of imprisonment in the viewer, constrained as we are to the handful of carefully prepared rooms that Vic and Danny are using as a base of operations. We only ever see three characters on screen, the two kidnappers and their victims. Presumably taking its cues from Reservoir Dogs, the action focuses on the bits after and in between the crime. We don’t reall get to see the kidnap itself, we don’t get to listen in on the ransom demand phone call and we don’t get to experience any of it from the point of view of the police or Alice’s father. Instead we become participants in the waiting and the managing of a hostage and get to feel as isolated as Alice or indeed her abductors, waiting and hoping for some kind of favourable outcome. You get the sense that this intimacy is a direct result of writer/director J Blakeson consciously writing a film to be made for little or no money. Rather than stifling the creative process (as that newspaper reviewer would have you believe) the lack of a budget has forced a rethinking of the genre and a change of approach that has only served to benefit the film.

Outside of this the plot unfolds in a fairly typical, although very satisfying, way where Elmore Leonard level (dis)honour among thieves and hidden agendas serve to unhinge a perfectly laid plan. Central to it all are the performances, all of which are superb. Eddie Marsan (and I mean this as a compliment) has the face of a psychopathic criminal and has no trouble at all convincing you he means business as Vic. His menacing presence can be felt from the opening frames as he and Danny can be seen preparing the flat in which they intend to hold their hostage, his position as the boss of the operation in no doubt from the second you see him. Martin Compston’s Danny is a little bit squeamish at the idea of their crime but seems to be willing to let Vic call the shots. As the enterprise develops their trust starts to deteriorate and both men become more frantic and paranoid about the other’s motivations. Marsan takes the edge in this particular area, conveying volumes with his demented, psychopathic stare. Arterton’s best scenes as Alice come quite early on, her initial scenes being largely physical due to being bound, gagged and hooded. Her discomfort at this situation is palpable, a series of spasmodic reactions to being manhandled by unseen assailants that do more to illustrate her immediate terror than words ever could.

Regrettably, I watched this film on an online streaming service so I don’t think I got to appreciate the look of it as much as I should. Thoughtfully framed and nicely photographed I’d have liked to have seen it on DVD or blu ray to get a better appreciation of how it was supposed to look. As convenient as online streaming is, I don’t think I’m prepared to sacrifice so much image quality on a regular basis. That said, it wasn’t severely detrimental to my experience, especially given the character driven nature of the film. It looks as though a lot of thought and work has gone into the set design however and so it only seems fair to give it the best chance possible to impress, I reckon the blu ray version has to be worth a look.

For an above average, extremely satisfying thriller you don’t really have to look much further than this. The fact that it is further evidence of what British filmmakers can do with a tuppence ha’penny budget is an added bonus.

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