Thursday, 18 February 2010

Tony (2010)

WARNING: THIS REVIEW MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS.

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Plot Summary: A thriller centred on a serial killer in a rundown London suburb.

A great film can be many things but, for me at least, the best films display either; a masterful level of artistry on a grand scale (Goodfellas, Seven Samurai) or an ability to get under my skin and truly move me (Control, The Haunting). Tony falls squarely into the latter category and has to be the best film I’ve seen so far this year. Unfortunately, it’s unlikely that most people have even heard of the film at all. It’s a low-budget British film that had a very limited release earlier in the month and, in what is becoming somewhat of a trend amongst similar films, went onto be released on DVD a mere three days later. This is a crying shame because Tony is a highly affecting film on the subject, the likes of which have not been seen since indie classics such as Deranged or Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer.

Tony perfectly subverts the standard serial killer clich├ęs in a number of ways. The audience are given no ‘normal man goes crazy’ first act, there are no police hot on Tony’s tracks and in a final stroke of brilliance he is not arrested or killed, but merely seen wandering the streets of London in solitude as the credits roll over the screen. The film is closer in tone to a kitchen-sink drama than Silence of the Lambs; a lot of the time we simply follow Tony walking around a drab looking Hackney or sitting around in his squalid flat in a council estate. The murders, and subsequent attempts to conceal the evidence, are shot in a documentary style while Tony goes through the motions in a calm and methodical manner. You’ll find no over-stylisation here; instead of glamorising these acts the film-makers have taken a more sobering, realistic approach which gives the film a highly disturbing feel. The film never becomes tedious however, as the tension is always taut and several red-herrings keep you guessing.

The central performance by relative newcomer Peter Ferdinando is outstanding and it would come as no surprise to me if we begin to see more of him in future productions. Ferdinando brings to Tony a fragile, lonely side which by no means makes the audience feel sorry for him but adds depth to a character that could easily have been one-dimensional and derivative. As the film progresses one begins to get a sense of his mental state, without it edging into pop-psychology territory. Tony wanders the streets of London talking openly to strangers, hanging out with drug addicts and going to a prostitute for company. Tony doesn’t kill because his Daddy sexually abused him; he’s a social outcast in a highly hostile and alienating environment who doesn’t know how to deal with it. Similarities to real-life murderer Dennis Nilsen are apparent but never overplayed and bring to the film a further sense of horrifying realism. Tony is most definitely not a sunny character-study but black humour runs throughout the film and keeps it from taking itself too seriously.

The camerawork and cinematography are particularly affecting and add much to the almost sickening atmosphere prevalent throughout the film. As mentioned, the film mostly employs modern documentary camerawork, but moments such as a long take of Tony’s ‘waste’ sinking to the bottom of a pitch-black canal or Tony’s figure shrouded in darkness waiting for the lift doors to close really enhance the feeling of his warped world. One extremely clever piece of camerawork starts as what simply appears to be a shot from behind a partially closed door, but quickly it becomes apparent, when a hand reaches out, that it’s actually a trapped victim’s point-of-view. Additionally, the soundtrack provided by British band ‘The The’ is aptly sinister, dark and moving.

Complaints could be levelled at Tony’s reliance on cultural stereotyping within the working classes but these characters (aggressive chavs, heartless dole officers and strung-out druggies) are extremely convincing and add to the general feel of moral depravity underlining the film. Others would protest that the film adds very little to the genre, especially since it bares many similarities to the previously mentioned Henry, but those films are now dreadfully dated and few are set in inner-city London or told in such a direct manner. My only grievance is that the film is too short; coming in at just under an hour and twenty minutes long. I could have happily watched a three hour version of Tony and did, admittedly, feel a little short-changed. Nevertheless, and while clearly not for everyone, Tony is a highly gripping and uncompromisingly bleak film and one that will stay with you for days, if not weeks, after it has finished.

Final Verdict: 9/10

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