Yardie – Film Review by Kevin Olohan
Director: Idris Elba
Writer: Victor Headley (Novel) Brock Norman Brock and Martin Stellman
Producer: Gina Carter, Robin Gutch
It wouldn’t be much of an exaggeration to say that Idris Elba is on top of the world. From his TV work as Stringer Bell in The Wire, DCI John Luther in the BBC drama Luther, to his recent Oscar Nomination for his portrayal of Nelson Mandela in Long Walk to Freedom. He’s leant his voice to Disney three times, in Finding Dory, Zootopia, and most significantly as Shere Khan in The Jungle Book remake, and he’s even appeared in the Marvel Cinematic Universe as Norse God Heimdall. Currently, he is the favorite to play the next incarnation of James Bond, recently tweeting: “The names Elba. Idris Elba.” as a potential hint.
It is a massively impressive CV, with each role, Elba has brought his reserved and charged charisma, that is always captivating to watch, even if the film around him is not as good as his performance (Prometheus, Star Trek Beyond). In his spare time (which I’m astounded he has any of) Elba is also a DJ as DJ Big Driis. It’s no wonder Time listed him as one of the 100 Most Influential People in the World.
In case it wasn’t abundantly clear, I am a massive fan of Idris Elba. So when I heard he was turning his sights to directing; with an adaptation of the Jamaican/British Crime novel Yardie, I was immensely excited. Especially with the recent surge of actor/writer/director debuts (Get Out, A Quiet Place) but of course, as much as it pains me to say, a good actor, does not a good director make.
The film is split between Kingston, Jamaica and London, England, and tells the story of D, a Jamaican youth whose brother Jerry Dread is gunned down after instigating peace between two rival neighborhood gangs. D is taken into the care of one of the gang leaders, King Fox, who raises him as a foster son/drug mule. Ten years later, D is still consumed with his quest for revenge, having seen his brothers shooter, Clancy Hebert, that very day. King Fox is eager for D to give up this vendetta, and so sends him on a drug run to London.
The prologue of the film is incredibly promising. Like the rest of the film, it is narrated by D (Ami Ameen) and we see the visual splendour of Kingston (gorgeous cinematography from Irishman John Conroy) which sees the Young D, and his relationship with brother Jerry Dread set up beautifully. In a very non sentimental and authentic way, the film possets the genuine power and healing quality of reggae music on the working class people of Jamaica. This is incredibly well done, it being something that obviously rings very true to Elba, considering his own music career. Unfortunately, aside from one or two brief moments throughout the rest of the film, (the three aspiring DJs who “Steal for sound,” and a climatic concert echoing the prologue) this theme is not explored to its full potential, which is a great shame.
Instead, once D’s plane touches down in London, we enter a world of gangster movie cliches. There is a montage of the ill gotten, the unhinged mob boss (played by the always brilliant Stephen Graham). There were moments of such intense deja vu, I was sure some of the lines of narration had been lifted directly from Goodfellas. It becomes an immensely predictable screenplay. There are some great performances here (particularly from Sheldon Shepard as King Fox, and from five year old Mylaa-Rae Hutchinson-Dunwell as D’s daughter Vanessa). Ameen does a decent job of holding up the weak script, but he’s given so little to work with, it’s hard to care for his character at all.
It would be very easy to blame all of the shortcomings of this film on Idris Elba himself as he is the big name associated with it. While it is an underwhelming debut, there are interesting elements at play here, so I hope this isn’t the last directorial effort we see from him. Let’s just hope he’s in the next one himself.