Looted may stick to very well-trodden ground, but outstanding acting performances bring a surprising emotional depth.
It may be his first feature film, but it’s clear that Looted is a film that’s been on director Rene van Pannevis’ mind for a long time: it’s a full-length adaptation of his 2015, BIFA-winning short film Jacked, and tells a story that draws heavily from the autobiographical. Rob (Charley Palmer Rothwell) is a 22-year-old in Hartlepool who splits his time between boosting cars and caring for his father (Tom Fisher), a retired sailor slowly dying from a lung disease caused by his years at the docks, a disease that claimed the life of Van Pannevis’ own father. When a job with his best mate Leo (Thomas Turgoose) inevitably goes wrong, the two worlds that Rob straddles are forced together. It’s a story told with a great depth of personality, albeit a touch conventionally. Van Pannevis’ command of the subject matter is undeniable, and despite being raised across the channel in the Netherlands, he shows an impressive grasp of the grim nature of post-industrial England.
The acting performances, however, are what save a fairly predictable film from falling towards mediocrity, as Van Pannevis displays a remarkable ability to draw visceral, cathartic performances from his cast, most prevalently in the superb turn of Palmer Rothwell. Rob is sympathetically portrayed in heart-rending detail, as he flashes from cheery jokes about James Blunt with friends to physically forcing tears out in his kitchen, and as his life falls apart at the seams his energy becomes frantic, nervous, and terrifyingly panicked. Fisher is also wonderful as the only semi-lucid Oswald, finding in Leo’s girlfriend Kasia (an equally remarkable Morgane Polanski) a rare emotional outlet. Fisher’s performance is harrowing, nostalgic and hauntingly beautiful, and turns what could have easily been clichéd and drab exchanges into deeply moving, memorable sequences that force reflection about wanderlust, memory and the relationship between a father and son.
There’s a none-too-subtle touch of Ken Loach to the way in which Hartlepool is displayed here – while there are brief moments of sun-splashed colour, the town is predominantly grey and brown, brutalistically concrete, dominated by the masts of cargo ships pulling into port and the smoke of factories along the coast. Whether by design or by virtue of a lack of budget, the streets feel empty and cold, and Rob’s house itself is grimly adorned with cans of lager and empty Pot Noodles. The camerawork exemplifies this as well; shot almost entirely handheld, the film feels grittier, more alert, and closer to the ground, and several impressively composed shots manage to tell a great deal of story with what little they have. Every small feature of the town feels natural and lifelike, endowing a greater level of coherency to Oswald’s pleas with Rob to “get out of here” and bringing further poignancy to his nostalgia for the sea. Often in films, particularly American cinema, ideas of escaping small towns are quaint, exciting; in Looted, Hartlepool is chokingly bleak, and escape becomes a necessity for survival.
Looted is, when push comes to shove, unlikely to set British independent cinema ablaze. It’s a perfectly competent debut that, while not exactly bringing an entirely fresh perspective to well-trodden settings and stories, tells a tale that remains worth telling. However, keep an eye on this young director, and remember the names of these actors; the level of emotion that Looted is able to reach is something that is not easily taught, and not easily achieved with budgets a hundred times larger. It’s a film that is worth your time, and though its details and dialogue may fall short of the sublime, there’s a poignancy here that more than rings true.
Looted will be released in the UK on Friday, October 6, 2020. It will be available on all major VOD platforms including Curzon Home Cinema.
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