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  Bike Thief, The Hell Off Wheels
Year: 2020
Director: Matt Chambers
Stars: Alec Secaraneau, Anamaria Marinca, Lucian Msamati, Alexa Maria Proca, Anna Wilson-Jones, Amir Boutros, June Watson, Aaron Neil, Dempsey Bovell, Alex Austin, Micah Loubon, Frank Kerr, Bobby Johnson, Ben Crowe, Louisa Boscawen, Jon Gutierrez
Genre: DramaBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: This Romanian (Alec Secaraneau) in London has a job as a delivery rider, motoring around the capital on his motorbike and mostly keeping himself to himself, even among his fellow workers at the takeaway. But he does have a home life, in a tower block flat he shares with his wife Elena (Anamaria Marinca) and their two children, daughter Miri (Alexa Maria Proca) and baby Toma; Elena helps to provide for them with a cleaning job, though she must secretly take the infant with her to the houses she attends to. The rider's boss at the takeaway is also his landlord, and if anything were to happen to upset the applecart he does not like to consider what the possibilities could be: losing his job, his home, his place in the country he has made his residence...

It takes quite some cheek to remake a stone-cold classic of cinema like The Bicycle Thieves, but that is what writer and director Matt Chambers did with this like-titled The Bike Thief, giving it a twenty-first century twist to expose the fact that there are people struggling through unfair working conditions in the twenty-twenties of Britain just as there were back in the nineteen-forties in Italy, asking the audience to ponder why things had not improved in all that time. To an extent, this was effective, as despite the unnamed lead character's taciturn nature, we did quickly sympathise with him and his existence that was clearly hanging by a thread that could snap at any moment, and that was precisely what happened over the course of the short running time.

This one did not even break the ninety minute mark, saying all it needed to in a succinct manner that had not an ounce of extraneous diversion on it. As you would know if you had seen the Vittorio De Sica original, or inferred from the title, the rider's bike is stolen, except it's not his bike at all, it's the boss's property and if he tells him what has occurred, he will have to fork out for the replacement out of his own pay. He cannot afford this and the boss carries himself with the avuncular nature of a man who knows he holds all the cards and can do as he wants to his employees, since there are always going to be plenty lining up to take their places, so there is a definite threat there that will have no consequences for the owner, but will have dire consequences for our protagonist, whose expression of numb fear remains haunting for the entire latter half.

Thanks to the lean approach, we never find out why the rider left his home country to travel to Britain, what made it such an attractive proposition when the reality of his circumstances appear far from secure or beneficial - what was life back in Romania like, you may be wondering with some concern? One aspect of the source was its unashamed tugging at the heartstrings, and though it was acclaimed as a masterpiece of realist cinema, it was basically a tearjerker which blatantly wanted to make you angry, then cry at the fate of the characters. Chambers was different, he expressed a certain cold reserve that was not as emotional, like a cover version of a song that hits the correct beats and melodies but does not have the same impact, possibly because you had seen this before - even if you had not seen the inspiration, it was hugely influential, just think Ken Loach or Mike Leigh, or the Dardenne Brothers, among countless others. And this changed the ending, which morally compromised the rider and had us left with mixed feelings. Music by Graham Hastings of Young Fathers.

[Signature Entertainment presents The Bike Thief on Digital Platforms 3rd May 2021.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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