Down Terrace is yet another entry in the British crime caper genre, only it puts a substantially different spin on it. That doesn’t mean it’s a good film, although it almost is. When it works, it’s wonderfully effective. Unfortunately, the sum of its parts do not equal a fully realized film — Down Terrace fits the definition of close, but not quite.
Directed by Ben Wheatley, Down Terrace is about a small-time family of crooks headed by Bill (Robert Hill) and his son Karl (Robert’s real-life son Robin Hill, who also wrote the screenplay). They’re recently returned from jail, where they narrowly avoided serious time and are trying to get the family affairs back in order. There’s a leak somewhere in their organization, and they need to figure it out. Among their list of friends and suspects are mother Maggie (Julia Deakin), and comrades Garvey (Tony Way), Pringle (Michael Smiley), and Karl’s newly pregnant girlfriend Valda (Kerry Peacock).
The film revolves around the dueling dynamics of the family itself - Karl has lost his taste for the business, his parents hate his girlfriend, and his father is a constant source of berating and scornfulness. Coupled with their efforts to find the mole, the two stories intertwine rather laboriously — it’s sort of a small-time “Sopranos” that never quite reaches the same heights.
Of course, that’s a tall comparison, and perhaps unfair. The acting in Down Terrace is all very good, particularly that of Robin Hill, who plays Karl as a disaffected yet manic son who can’t quite keep his emotions in check. Similarly engaging is Deakin as the harried, hard-worn mother who just wants things back to normal, and whose coldly calculating methodology range from sweetly maternal to rather chilling.
Yet what doesn’t always work is the writing — the first hour or so of Down Terrace is sort of a glum, dragging affair that, while it effectively establishes the histories and factionalism within the family and the organization, never truly engages the viewer. Once the film starts building up steam towards its body-littered climax, however it becomes much more affecting. The final 45 minutes are a tense, bloody affair filled with tragedy and a healthy shake of black humor. Robin Hill’s range of emotions is quite striking, as he begins to realize just how much he loathes his family, and in turn, how little they respect him, and yet he can’t quite escape their clutches. It all ends in a sprawling set of murders that would be rather macabre if not for the dry, deadpan delivery of the whole sordid mess.
Down Terrace is effective at times, but failed to keep me fully captivated. The performances are all very good, but suffer at the expense of the sparse, dry story. It’s a shame, really, because the final act is excellent. Unfortunately, it caps off a rather unfulfilling beginning that ultimately makes the film as a whole suffer.
Originally reviews for the Boston International Film Festival, Down Terrace opens in limited release this weekend.
TK writes about music and movies. He enjoys playing with dogs, raising the dead, and tacos. You can email him here.