The most shocking thing about Ill Manors is how funny you start to find it. There’s only so much gnawing of your hand you can do in the face of such unrelenting grimness before the black humour starts to shine through. Plan B’s urban safari, channelling Cathy Come Home via Trainspotting, makes you shudder at what it must do to someone’s outlook to actually live in that world. And that, of course, is the point. There’s plenty to admire: a pacey script, stylish editing, an impressively low-key performance from Riz Ahmed as Aaron.
The very best thing is the way the songs dovetail with the action. It’s more than a soundtrack, a series of hip-hop tracks that illuminate the narrative, Ben popping up to deliver scathing diatribes like a vengeful Chorus in a Shakespeare play. It also gives the whole thing the surrealist bent of a musical. But that’s also where the biggest point of contention arises.
Much has been made of the unpleasant sequence with Michelle, who gets whored along a strip of chicken shops over a stolen phone. But the next time we meet Michelle she’s virtually acting like a superhero, facing off baddies with a brick, and her ordeal is never spoken of again. After painting so many scenes so deftly, Drew is forced to yank them together through a series of coincidences, the final act turning into a caper movie with a spiralling body count and an ending that’s just daft.
But those are mere first film fails – Ill Manors is a brave and formidable piece of work.