Released to middling reviews from the critics and much ire from the BBFC who didn’t really appreciate the idea of a film whose central premise is built around ram raiding department stores for kicks in a pre-apocalyptic vision of Britain. Paul W.S Anderson’s debut film much like Wes Anderson’s Bottle Rocket really is a departure from films he would make in its wake but at the same time it’s still an intresting film as Anderson draws inspirations from the likes of Mad Max, Blade Runner and Batman’s Gotham City to create a unique vision of a divided Britain.
Compared to Greg Arkai’s own Pre-apocalyptic trilogy: Totally Fucked Up, The Doom Generation and Nowhere there is no art student / shoegaze style flourishes here despite them both being so firmly rooted in the 90’s with Anderson instead painting a distinctively British vision of the near future with society broken up into the privileged and poor while order is maintained by a militant police force.
Opening to Billy (Jude Law) being released from prison and soon returning to his old ways when he reunites with best friend Jo (Sadie Frost) with the pair soon embarking on a spot of joyriding. As Anderson gives us the first of his action set pieces which despite working with a considerably smaller budget than the films which followed still looks impressive. Certainly the action scenes while sporadic are the moments which stick with the viewer, especially when faced with characters who are often as engaging as much as they enraging to the viewer.
Such antisocial behaviour as seen during this opening is however the lifeblood of Billy’s world were everything is all about the rush with little regards for the consequences of his actions which has unsurprisingly has left him living in a caravan with his parents throwing him out of the family home and clearly wanting nothing to do with him as they view him as a lost cause. Billy though is frequently seen as caring little about anything bar his immediate future while his reputation amongst his fellow street punks only serves to fuel his ego as he viewed as what could almost be considered a folk hero, especially with many seeing his exploits as striking back at the upper class especially the film builds to the climatic hit on the shopping mall Retailand were the privileged upper classes are shown dressed in white while a string quartet soundtrack their shopping activities. Their styling a stark contrast to the leather and punk rock astestic of the Billy and his crew.
The other plot thread running through the film is the relationship between Billy and Jo who can be either be seen as friends or in a relationship depending on your own perspective. The actual status of their relationship only being more muddled when we watch Billy flirting with other women, while even their closest friends don’t seem to know the score. Outside of this though Jo really marks the embodiment of the female rebel so frequently seen throughout 90’s cinema especially as she maintains an air of cool throughout while proving herself more than capable of holding her own in the testosterone driven world she inhabits were she often can be seen playing the peacemaker especially with Billy showing so little regard to the fallout of his actions.
What’s lacking from the film though is any kind of discernible threat as while Billy certainly clashes with Tommy (Sean Pertwee) the leader of a rival ram raid crew whose attempts to create a business out of their own criminal activities are being hindered by Billy’s blatent disregard for any kind of code of honour leading to the pair engaging in a constant bout of tit for tat attacks on each other. The only other discernible threat is in the head of police Conway (Jonathan Pryce) who while seemingly being setup from the start to be the constant threat to Billy only to instead make sporadic appearances throughout the film until the finale.
Perhaps if the film had been better received would have been seen as the film which ushered in the new era of British cinema which instead fell to Danny Boyle’s debut Shallow Grave. While this film certainly might not be without its issues and far from the action packed thriller the trailer hints it is still an interesting debut from a director still trying to find his style something which would become more apparent with the films which followed.