Ron Scalpello’s inaugural feature Offender (2012) joins a long list of recent London gangland dramas that focus upon a revenge-based plot, possessing enjoyable elements yet lacking such much needed grit. The dramatic opening of Scalpello’s big-screen debut finds Tommy (Joe Cole) fighting through a riot-gear clad group of police officers. Flashback to more pleasant times and we discover that Tommy is the type of guy who keeps his head down doing all he can to look after his pregnant girlfriend Elsie (Kimberley Nixon).
All is well until a gang of thugs, who were also responsible for a murder during the London riots, attacks Elsie. The attack results in Elsie miscarrying. Grief stricken, Tommy learns that they have been sentenced to jail and decides to get arrested so that he can enact his revenge, whatever the cost.
Comparisons will undoubtedly be made to Alan Clarke’s Scum (1979), which treads the same ground of ultra violent youths and the corrupt penal system. Such a comparison, however, only exposes how Offender lacks the bite that was provoked by Clarke’s grittier portrayal of the culture. Nevertheless, Cole’s portrayal of Tommy is handled well as he shifts towards becoming an institutionalised thug who rules with violence.
The choice to use the London riots of 2011 as the initial scene setter seems a little ill-judged so soon after events, and proves to be unnecessary to the over-all plot. Much more enjoyable is the action contained within the prison. It’s quickly established that the young offenders institute is a place where violence and corruption rule. As well as seeing how Tommy will enact his revenge, there are also various subplots including a corrupt, drug-addled warden and a vague foray into a Muslim prayer group seeking to reform inmates. These sidelines distract from the enjoyment of the main story and expose notable weakness in Paul Van Carter’s screenplay.
Scalpello’s Offender is far from original when placed in the context of the British crime movie genre, despite its intriguing focus upon the recent London riots. However, featuring some enjoyable performances and an entertaining revenge plot, it still has just enough about it to keep audiences entertained.
Read our interview with stars of the film Joe Cole and Malachi Kirby here.