Yardie

★★★

Empire (UK) - - ON.SCREEN - Jimi Fa­murewa

Out 31 au­gust CERT 15 / 102 mins

di­rec­tor Idris Elba

cast Aml Ameen, Shel­don Shep­herd, Stephen Gra­ham, Shan­tol Jack­son

plot It’s 1983, and young Ja­maican gang­ster D (Ameen) has been sent to Lon­don to smug­gle co­caine. But, af­ter an­ger­ing lo­cal king­pin Rico (Gra­ham), D strikes out on his own — and stum­bles across a chance to avenge the mur­der that has haunted him for a decade.

There has been the sense, in re­cent years, of a rapid up-tick in Idris elba’s in­volve­ment be­hind the cam­era. We’ve al­ready had sky One’s breezily au­to­bi­o­graph­i­cal com­edy drama In The Long Run; he is co-cre­ator and star of up­com­ing net­flix se­ries Turn Up Char­lie; and here, per­haps most in­trigu­ingly, is his proper fea­ture de­but as a di­rec­tor. If the pro­posed endgame for elba is a tran­si­tion from film star to film­maker, then Yardie — an oc­ca­sion­ally stylish, ro­bustly de­liv­ered pe­riod gang­ster flick, weighed down by a mud­dled third act

— is a solid, if un­re­mark­able, first step on this path.

based on the cult 1992 novel of the same name, the film kicks off in Kingston, Ja­maica, in 1973, where the ex­pos­i­tory Good­fel­las-style voiceover flows as freely as the rum punch. We meet D, or Den­nis, a young man from the ru­ral hills (played first by antwayne ec­cle­ston and in later scenes by the im­pres­sive aml ameen) just as his idyl­lic child­hood is rup­tured by the mur­der of his peace-lov­ing DJ brother, Jerry Dread (ev­er­aldo Creary). Ten years later, D is in the em­ploy of lav­ishly lapelled druglord King Fox (shep­herd) and is soon sent to smug­gle co­caine to stephen Gra­ham’s vi­o­lently tetchy, pa­tois-speak­ing Lon­don king­pin.

need­less to say, things do not ex­actly go to plan. and soon, as well as try­ing to rec­on­cile with his Lon­dondwelling girl­friend (Jack­son) and their young daugh­ter, D is out to find the man re­spon­si­ble for his brother’s death who, hand­ily enough, is also in the cap­i­tal.

elba has a clear knowl­edge and fond­ness for the mul­ti­cul­tural Lon­don of his child­hood and — though the Kingston-set scenes are vividly ren­dered — it’s here that Yardie sparks to life and starts to feel a lot less like a generic ul­tra­vi­o­lent drug saga trans­posed to the Caribbean. scenes de­pict­ing the DJ cul­ture that’s piv­otal to the story (and an­other elba ob­ses­sion) fully plant you in the midst of all that heat, weed-smoke and chest-rat­tling noise. all the usual 1980s sig­ni­fiers are present (hello, snarling punks), but there’s an en­joy­able speci­ficity to lots in Yardie’s world of trin­ket-filled Ja­maican front rooms, locked ro­tary phones and north Lon­don Turk­ish cafés.

Per­for­mance-wise, stephen Gra­ham’s turn — a cranked-to-11, coke-dusted frenzy of schiz­o­phrenic ac­cent switch­ing and mad cack­ling — is ridicu­lous but en­joy­able. but ameen, still per­haps best known for Kidult­hood, brims com­mand­ing charisma as D, and he’s ably sup­ported by rel­a­tive new­comer Jack­son play­ing his flinty, de­spair­ing part­ner. In fact, as Yardie heads to an un­gainly fi­nale that some­how feels si­mul­ta­ne­ously clut­tered and thin — re­plete with ris­i­ble rev­e­la­tions, killings and the con­clu­sion of an un­der-served sub­plot about the place of the para­nor­mal in Ja­maican cul­ture — it’s the em­i­nently watch­able lead ac­tor who holds it all to­gether.

Ver­dict Nei­ther a luridly en­joy­able piece of Scar­face-style pulp or a nu­anced genre sub­ver­sion, idris elba’s di­rec­to­rial de­but is a fit­fully en­ter­tain­ing 1980s gang­ster thriller.

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