Friday, 26 September 2014

The Riot Club

Alistair (Sam Claflin) and Miles (Max Irons) are students who are just beginning their time at Oxford University. Although they end up as partners in their course, they are vitally different people; Miles is more down to earth and accepting of other cultures, whereas Alistair is snobby and aims to follow his Uncle's footsteps and become a Tory MP. However, both end up joining the Riot Club; a long established elite drinking club at Oxford that prides itself on hedonism and monetary values.

The Riot Club is potentially the most bizarre film I've seen all year. It bears no similarities to anything I've seen for quite a while, and I'm not entirely sure if this is a good or a bad quality to have. I personally like films that are different, but this borders on weird. Adapted from Laura Wade's stage show Posh, the film very clearly shows its theatrical backgrounds in terms of set design and plot, but the pacing struggles because of this. What we end up with is a film that is probably far better than anyone would presume, but just falls short of greatness. I just can't help but wish they pushed it just that little bit further. 

The entire cast of The Riot Club is excellent, particularly Claflin and Irons. They take what is a relatively heavy script (particularly towards the end of the middle act) and portray their characters seamlessly. Claflin seems to surprise me with each film he does, but he's never been given a lead role so serious before. Here he is finally given something to do besides flirt with people, and he is incredible. He takes Alistair to quite a dark place throughout the film's centerpiece, but he does it faultlessly. Obviously much of this praise comes down to Wade's excellent script, which focuses heavily on hedonism, class differentiation and the role that money plays in society. When it wants to be, it's pretty deep stuff.

Being adapted from a stage play also has a strong effect on the set pieces and the plot of the film. The vast majority of the scenes take place in small rooms, which allows director Lone Scherfig to utilize tight framing and close ups to physically entrap the characters inside their locations. She does this so effectively that by the time the film comes to a close, and we're presented with vast panning shots of London iconography, it doesn't feel right. We become accustomed to small set pieces, so sudden wide, external shots feel unnatural. When it works, though, it does so brilliantly. 

The main issue I have with The Riot Club is its pacing. The film is 107 minutes long, but it takes 30 of those minutes until the protagonists actually join the club. What should have been a fairly swift opening act feels prolonged. The film is never boring, but when it reaches its centerpiece in the private dining room of the pub, you just wish it would last a bit longer, and spent a little less time establishing the Oxford location. Once inside the pub, we don't really leave the surrounding area, which is an effective technique for racking up tension. Add to that a failed attempt for a prostitute (brilliantly played by Natalie Dormer), increasingly violent implications and consistently heightening intoxication, and the build up for these characters borders on a dangerous level. But then the come down is so quick. Admittedly, the breakdown is so violent and dark, I'm not sure many people could have handled it for any longer than the five minutes the film uses. It just would've been more satisfying had we been treated to more comedown and less build up. 

Overall, though, The Riot Club will likely wind up a pretty polarising film. I have no doubts that many people will be surprised by its dark, political themes, but I just wish they pushed this a bit further. I feel as if they cut a lot down in order to secure the 15 rating, so as to not alienate half of their potential audience. The Riot Club is undeniably interesting, and never boring (a pretty good feat for s film that spends an hour inside one room), but it felt like it was holding back a bit too much, which, in turn, allowed the pacing to slip a bit. When it's good, The Riot Club is very, very good. But every now and then these moments come along and you can't help but feel like they should have been bigger. But, for the film that is, The Riot Club is, well, a riot. 

To Summarise: Despite pacing issues, The Riot Club's strong acting, intricate set design and effectively dark tone make it an undeniably engaging thriller with surprisingly politically adept subject matter. 

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