In the same vein as the sublime Shane Meadows, Eran Creevy makes his entrance on to the screen, with his directorial debut Shifty. If you’re expecting Lock Stock or Snatch, you’re going to have to have a rethink – these cockney loud mouths have got a heart.
Chris (Daniel Mays) arrives back in London, fresh from Manchester complete with a good job, steady income and, the ultimate sign for anyone under 30 that you’ve really ‘made it’ (especially in these current climes), a mortgage. The eponymous Shifty (Riz Ahmed) who he’s come to visit, on the other hand, doesn’t have a job and lives with his brother (played with aplomb by Easties resident postie, Nitin Ganatra) who continuously reminds him that he’s well a bit of a waster – he got 4 ‘A’ levels, dontcha know?
The lack of work doesn’t seem to be harming Shifty’s trainer collection much though – there’s enough in his room to rival Nike town – which raises Chris’s suspicions that there’s more to his old mate than loafing around watching telly and eating fry-ups. The answer, of course, is lying in the bottom of the freezer (or the washing machine drawer)… Drugs. And not just a bid of weed, as Chris points out, Shifty ain’t messing about with his business, he’s going all out on the hard stuff.
And so the weekend ain’t quite the quiet beer down the pub, party later that Chris had in mind. Well, it is, but first he’s gotta help Shifty, erm, shift the gear… The pair of them head out for the local estates ready to dish out the meds to their neighboring addicts, which includes a turn from the theatre lovey Francesca Annis – a somewhat out-of-place cat-obsessed crystal meth smoker.
Everything seems to be going to plan (except for a wonderful sequence in which the pair become embroiled in an off-the-back-of-a-lorry escapade), that is until, the seemingly innocuous, Trevor (Jay Simpson) enters the picture. He’s been hanging around all morning trying to pin down Shifty for a fix but to no avail, so when he eventually tracks him down, in desperation, he manages to mug him for everything – cash ‘n’ crack.
It’s here that the turn to the dark side, reminiscent of Meadows work, comes into play as plunged into despair the long-term buddies reveal things to one another that they’d been keeping under wraps – reasons why Chris went up north and why there’s animosity directed at him when anyone appears to recognise him. But they’ll need to get over their tiff quick when bad guy Glen (Jason Flemyng) succeeds in stitching Shifty up with the head honcho, whilst his brother’s found the remainder of his stash… Will he be following Chris home? Or taking a trip down stream? – in a body bag, that is…
A cracking film from first-timer Creevy, Shifty deserves to be on the to-see list for everyone this springtime. The director’s certainly picked up a thing or two with his previous work in the industry, especially assisting Matthew Vaughn on Layer Cake it would seem. However, bringing in the buddy-movie elements adds to its appeal more than its predecessors that it’s bound to draw comparisons with.
Drugs might appear to be at the forefront of this tale, but it’s friendship that’s truly at the heart of it. You’ve only got to see the scene on the playground with the pair ‘larking’ about to know that it’s more than just another tale about the trouble with London. You can’t help but smile at the “mates” as they, almost obsessively, refer to one another; the performances from Mays (it’s nice to see him afforded a central role for once) and Ahmed seem completely genuine, and dappy Malik (Jason Maza), although short-lived, makes the best of his time on the screen.
Shifty ain’t just another grim depiction of the seedy underbelly of our capital – I think we could all do without that, thanks – this is about sticking together through the good and the bad. That’s just what the film provides a bit of nastiness, but with a few laughs (stuffed cat, or two, anyone?) to keep us all sane… Before we totally despair of the world. I’m even starting to get more hopeful about British cinema…