Monday, September 8, 2014

BUFF 2014: Montana (2014)

Montana (McKell David), a 14-year-old boy from East London, lives amongst a ruthless group of powerful drug dealers led by a Russian ex-soldier.  He doesn’t go to school but wears a uniform anyway so that he can inconspicuously deliver cocaine and wedges of money around.  The dealers are hiding a secret from him about his father so when a rival gangster jumps him and steals a large amount of money, they use this excuse to try and kill him.

Just as he is about to be killed, Montana is saved by Dmitri – a Serbian assassin (Lars Mikkelsen) who is watching over him in order to get revenge on the Russian mob boss who was involved in the killing of his family.  Montana, now disillusioned by the betrayal of everyone around him, is convinced by Dmitri to help him his revenge so undergoes rigorous weapon and unarmed combat training to toughen him up.

Meanwhile, the gangsters are looking for him so use their connections with Phelps (Brad Moore), a corrupt police officer, to capture Jess (Sinead Michael), Montana’s only friends his own age, to lure him and Dmitri to an explosive confrontation…

Writer/director Mo Ali presents the Boyz In The Hood meets The Karate Kid narrative as a slick urban thriller, with stylish rhythmic editing and wide frames of tower blocks and endless terrace housing.  The fight scenes are beautifully choreographed and are as exciting as anything I’ve seen this year.  But underneath the action there are some darker messages about modern London.

At the crucial scene where Montana loses the money, he is framed next to a piece of graffiti that reads, “poverty is the mother of all crime” – yet all throughout the film the imposing financial skyscrapers of Canary Wharf dominate the skyline.  The brutal criminality of the gangsters is juxtaposed with the socially acceptable advocates of inequality: the City of London bankers.  The other public institution that is accountable for protecting the people on the estate, the Metropolitan police, is also shown as corrupt and destructive.  The racism of the police is also referenced, for example when Phelps threatens a young black teenager with the line, “[I’ll] bleed you ‘til you turn the right colour.”

A story like this could easily fall flat if the central performance was weak, but McKell David is totally believable as Montana.  He manages to get the range just right from a tearful, vulnerable teenager to a fearless and menacing assassin – one tracking shot in particular where he looks at the camera as Dmitri is teaching him not to flinch at bullets flying past his head gave me a shiver…

The film will get a cinema release in December 2014 and is an absolute must for fans of big, loud, Friday-night cinema.   It puts recent Hollywood action films to shame and establishes Mo Ali as an amazing new London talent.  Make sure to catch it on the big screen.

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