I Am Urban

Review by Rich Cline | 3/5

I Am Urban
dir Candida Brady
prd Matthew Mitchell, Titus Ogilvy
scr Bernard Hare, Candida Brady, Tiffany Sharp
with Richard Armitage, Anna Friel, Fraser Kelly, Neil Morrissey, Charlie Heaton, Kathryn Drysdale, Jonathan Payne, Liam Ainsworth, Olivia Downie Hullah, Olivia Tomlinson, Oscar Rogers, Nadine Rose Mulkerrin
release UK 3.Nov.23
23/UK 1h38

armitage friel morrissey

Is it streaming?

friel, armitage and kelly
Based on a true story, this film has taken almost a decade to get to cinemas. It's artfully shot and edited, with naturalistic performances in a timely and urgent story. But filmmaker Candida Brady uses fragmented scenes and muffled dialog that make it difficult for audiences to work out how these people are connected. This effectively evokes the perspective of the title character, but leaves the movie feeling experimental.
In 1996 Leeds, Chop (Armitage) has left his care worker job and seems to be doing nothing at all. He has a brief romance with Greta (Friel), getting to know her sprawling brood of six children who have been placed in care homes. Her bright-spark 11-year-old son Urban (Kelly) clicks strongly with Chop, hanging around even after he breaks up with Greta over her junkie hooker behaviour. And Chop begins hanging out with Urban and other care-home runaways in their clubhouse shed, joining them to drink vodka, smoke weed and try to avoid the police.
Scenes are lively and intense, vividly capturing the grimy atmosphere of people who have stopped caring whether their homes were safe or clean. Many don't have homes. The film darts between characters, depicting awful situations that naggingly refuse to coalesce into an overarching narrative. Some of these are played for laughs, such as destructive joyriding in stolen cars or playacting King Arthur with a real machete as Excalibur. And it's difficult to feel sympathy for Chop as he indulges in various vices that directly jeopardise children.

Still, Armitage manages to help us see that Chop does genuinely care about them. Perhaps it's his feelings of helplessness that allow him to join rather than help them. He creates terrific chemistry with young Kelly, who delivers a fully realised turn as a smart boy who has never known any kind of stability, a hardened and seasoned criminal by age 12. And Friel also fully invests in Greta's outrageously irresponsible behaviour, revealing a lost soul underneath.

There's a lot of important material in this film. Despite its time period, the story feels eerily present-day, set at the end of another long period during which ruling Tories cruelly dismantled social care systems. Unable to get basic help or education, anyone struggling was sent spiralling into desperation and despair. It's a very bleak picture, tinged with just a glimmer of hope in Chop's innate compassion. Even if he doesn't know how to help, just being there is a big step.

cert 15 themes, language, violence, drugs 28.Sep.23

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© 2023 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall