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  Great Ecstasy of Robert Carmichael, The The Wrong Crowd
Year: 2005
Director: Thomas Clay
Stars: Dan Spencer, Danny Dyer, Lesley Manville, Ryan Winsley, Michael Howe, Miranda Wilson, Charles Mnene, Stuart Laing, Ami Instone, Mick Larkin, Rob Dixon, Sam Gurney, Anne Devlin, Muriaf Salman, Hilary Tones, Emma Vance, Donna Shilling
Genre: DramaBuy from Amazon
Rating:  4 (from 1 vote)
Review: The second modern war in Iraq is about to begin, and it's all over the television news - you can't escape it. In a seaside town in Great Britain, life goes on, but it must be affected by current events somehow, however obliquely, as we see when a Muslim child is bullied by two older schoolboys who taunt him about weapons of mass destruction and steal his schoolbag. In school that morning, Robert Carmichael (Dan Spencer) is in his media studies class but finding it difficult to concentrate when one of his fellow pupils keeps flicking rolled up bits of paper at him. The bell rings, and the teacher dismisses the class but asks Robert to stay behind, and inquires if he is feeling all right as he seems depressed. The morose Robert says he's fine, and is told he is doing well in his studies, but at the moment is more interested in going out at lunchbreak for a smoke with his friends. Nothing about him speaks of violence, which makes what happens the next night all the more shocking...

Or that's the idea, at any rate, as the prime purpose of The Great Ecstasy of Robert Carmichael is to shock. Scripted by director Thomas Clay and producer Joseph Lang, it presents its main character as a quiet, almost negligible teenager, and very much the hanger on amongst his group of peers. There's drug abuse, swearing, and that violence to depict what the filmmakers would presumably hope to be a searing document from the frontlines of Britain's youth crime crisis, yet oddly not much about it convinces. Sure, the scenes of the teens wandering around aimlessly, drinking and smoking on the streets have a certain authenticity about them, but the link between their more extreme behaviour and the War on Terror is a bit of a stretch. Certainly violence in society takes many forms, from government sanctioned to a punch-up outside a pub, but to find a strong connection betwen the two is something beyond this work.

To underline the point they're making, Clay and Lang put the news broadcasts on every television in shot, as if the culture of aggression filters down from on high. Most of the film takes the aimless aspect, and while technically very well filmed, with long takes and a blandly unblinking eye in the main, the amateurish acting from many of the cast doesn't so much create a sense of realism, but distances and distracts the viewer from the action. Robert is a cellist in the school orchestra, as if to say, look at how someone who can produce such music can sink so low, but we never understand what leads him to the acts at the climax of the film, it's all kept vague. Fair enough, let the audience make up its own mind, but at least give us the notion that the filmmakers have some idea themselves. By the end, the previously characterless Robert proves himself a thoroughly unpleasant piece of work, but it's all too calculated to provoke anything but a disdainful reaction and its conclusions are badly thought out and, at worst, trite.

[The Tartan Region 2 DVD has a featurette and trailer as extras.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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