Best Laid Plans
dir David Blair
scr Chris Green
prd Michael Knowles, Brad Moore, Stacey Murray
with Stephen Graham, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Maxine Peake, David O'Hara, Emma Stansfield, Lee Ingleby, Peter Wight, Sarah Parks, Brad Moore, Nick Moss, Eric McNichol, Rowan Scarborough
release UK 3.Feb.12
12/UK 1h48
Best Laid Plans
Man or mouse? Graham and Akinnuoye-Agbaje.

peake stansfield wight
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Best Laid Plans The title makes it clear that this is a British variation on Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men ("The best-laid plans of mice and men / Often go awry," wrote Robert Burns), and sharp filmmaking and acting help bring the themes to life in ways that are moving and disturbing.

Danny (Graham) owes a huge amount of cash to the local crime boss (O'Hara), a situation that strains his long-time friendship with Joseph (Akinnuoye-Agbaje), a gentle giant with a mental age of 7. When Joseph rescues bullied woman Isabel (Peake), he becomes a local hero and finds a friend, maybe more. Meanwhile, Danny falls for sexy call-girl Lisa (Stansfield). But with no options left, he convinces Joseph to enter a bare-knuckle boxing match for the prize money. And getting closer to the mob isn't a great idea.

The film has a lively attitude that mixes jagged humour with intense nastiness. Danny is a loser who spends all his cash on drugs and hookers. His only sense of responsibility is for Joseph, and yet he abuses Joseph's trust with a scheme that can only end badly. Both actors are terrific, with Graham nicely switching back and forth from his shifty behaviour on the streets to being much more unguarded when alone with Joseph. Akinnuoye-Agbaje has a showier role, but underplays it beautifully to focus on Joseph's observant, life-loving personality rather than his mental disability.

Director Blair and writer Green show considerable skill, creating a story that's involving due to its realistic characters, urgent plot and an astute use of locations. We sympathise with both of these men despite, or maybe because of, their imperfections. Although Danny's self-interest often brings out an underlying cruelty that's deeply chilling, we also know that he genuinely cares for Joseph.

The filmmakers overstate the differences in the two men's relationships with women, but all four actors ground each scene in realistic character detail. As the story progresses, the film drifts toward the exploitation genre, with the violent cage-fighting and Stansfield's general state of undress. But there are also some unexpected events that catch us off guard. And in the end the film is a fascinating exploration of a complex, difficult friendship.

cert 15 themes, language, violence, sexuality, drugs 2.Feb.12

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© 2012 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall