Thursday, 23 September 2010

Review : The Kid

Nick Moran’s first directorial effort Telstar (2008) was a promising, if slightly affected debut about the life of producer/songwriter Joe Meek. His follow up feature The Kid, based on the autobiographical misery-memoir by Kevin Lewis is an absolute disaster from start to finish. Lacking any subtlety, nuance or emotional restraint, it tells the story of Lewis’ abusive upbringing at the hands of his parents and the criminal underworld through the 80s and early 90s.

With three actors playing Lewis at various stages of his youth, it begins in 1980 with a series of beatings administered by his psychotic mother, an absurd and ridiculous performance by Natasha McElhone, here doing a Charlize Theron Monster turn in terrible glasses and false teeth. She’s like a caricature of a Roald Dahl villain with added ‘fahks!’ and lip curls. In case we didn’t realise she was beating a child, this first segment is underscored by a sombre music-box or kid’s toy and framed against his cartoon doodles on the wall of his room, a recurring theme used to show us his frame of mind (which the facile dialogue kindly reiterates), scribbles and swear words when he’s angry, smiley-faced suns when he’s happy. In case we hadn’t realised how awful things are for little Kevin, his home is dressed like a junkie’s den from Trainspotting and the ugly cinematography is heavily grained and devoid of colour. Like I said, subtlety is clearly not Moran’s strong point.

Saved from his parents by a kindly school nurse, Kevin is placed in a care home where he’s looked after by social worker Bernard Hill, the first of three underwritten father figures (his teacher and foster father, Ioan Gruffud and James Fox respectively) who offer cod-psychological insights and understanding smiles. From time to time, we’re offered more narrated character information from Rupert Friend, playing the older Kevin, whose effete voice work brings to mind Frank Spencer more than anyone else and attempts to frame the film as some kind of fairy tale. Admittedly, as the credits roll at the end of the film we’re introduced to the real Kevin Lewis, and Friend’s interpretation reveals itself as uncannily accurate.

In Friend’s segment of the story, Moran delivers terrible directorial choices in quick succession. From the framing of Kevin’s business decisions against the rampant capitalist mentality of Thatcherism to the astonishingly poor fight sequences towards the end, his biggest mistakes arise from the obvious and manipulative use of music to emotionally underscore his scenes. He’s clearly bought ‘Now That’s What I Call Classical Music : Vol 1’ or some such compilation and it soon becomes clear how much he likes it, with the passage of time in early scenes shown through a limited knowledge of popular songs that immediately identify an era or reach for an emotion (the inclusion of a song called “I Can Be Happy” when he first arrives at the care home had me in stitches).

There’s no sense of dramatic irony when James Fox introduces him to boxing, and some ill-advised moments of whimsical fantasy (when he meets a girl in a club, for example and imagines himself strutting straight over to her) are poorly judged. A cheap throwaway gag about IKEA and the use of the word ‘chav’ only serve to betray the period setting, and the injudicious use of slow motion underscored by opera during a nasty beating goes for Scorsese but misses by a mile.

Performances by Con O’Neill as Kevin’s father and Johnny Palmiero as his underworld driver are nicely played, but the heaping of cliché on top of cliché make The Kid an emotionally facile mess and one of the weakest film I’ve seen this year.

The Kid - 2010 - United Kingdom - 111 mins - Dir : Nick Moran

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