Thursday, June 20

Yardie Review

By Emery Snyder @leeroy711
Director: Idris Elba
Starring: Aml Ameen, Shantol Jackson, Sheldon Shepherd & Stephen Graham
Amazon Original – June 17, 2019

The story begins in Jamaica 1973. Our young lead, “D” lives in a rural village in the hills, far away from the gang violence of Kingston. He idolizes his older brother who is shot down while preaching a message of peace to the street thugs. As D (Ameen) grows, his rage leads him into the same life his brother was trying to protect him from. The gang’s leader, King Fox (Shepherd) takes him under his wing. Before long, he finds himself transporting dope to London where he reconnects with his lost love (Jackson), his daughter and the ghosts of his past.

The plot this film navigates is not exactly original. It’s a story about the challenges of breaking cyclic violence and the perilous quest of revenge. From The Iliad to Hamlet to The Count of Monte Cristo, we have been telling each other these types of moral tales throughout the ages. It has been retooled and adapted to every time and place imaginable. In cases like this, if you can accept the premise of unoriginality, you can still enjoy the template as it’s applied to a unique setting. Judge the film based on technical achievements. Pacing, performances, cinematography and music all play a role in overcoming inherent predictability and pulling out empathy from the audience. That being said, and almost in spite of itself, this film still succeeds, although not greatly.

YARDIE is the directorial debut of fan favorite actor, Idris Elba. I was happy to see that he’s got a bit of flare to his style. A great color palette and interesting camera angles fill the frame for 101 minutes. The Jamaican sets and costumes look just like the cover of Jimmie Cliff’s The Harder They Come. And his Hackney, London locations provided a great and stark contrast for D's ‘fish-out-of-water’ story.

The casting choices shine more than any other aspect in this film. Ameen’s charisma is magnetic. This is necessary because the survival and success of his character rely on it. Sheldon Shepherd and Stephen Graham play the film’s menacing baddies. At times hammy, they are both a lot of fun to watch. And I was particularly captivated by newcomer, Shantol Jackson. I’d like to see this be her breakout role. Her IMDB list is far too bare for her talents. Her performance was strong and confident yet still yearning and vulnerable. And she has a very photogenic look. These are all British actors doing thick Jamaican accents. My American ear is not properly tuned to know if these were good accents, but I found them at worst, believable.

The screenplay has three credited writers, including the novelist, Victor Headley. The biggest issues I had with the film as a whole were all related to the writing. At times, the pacing seemed so ramped up that the story broke away from the conventional plot beats that avid moviegoers have come to expect. This made some of the events extra unnerving and off-kiltered. And while I appreciated this break from trope, it took away from some of the weight of the narrative’s tragic events. At other times, this pacing simply made the motivations of the characters questionable at best. Nothing that happens here really gets a chance to breathe properly for the audience to appreciate how it effects the characters. This is an epic story, spanning over a decade in time. I think it was a mistake to attempt to condense it down to this short of a runtime.

In summary, the good outweighs the bad in YARDIE. And there’s a lot stylistically to cling to for the future of Elba’s directorial career (if he chooses one). Some breakout and breakthrough performances combined with a very cool Reggae soundtrack make for an interesting and enjoyable, if not completely successful film, well-worth its runtime for existing Amazon Prime subscribers.

Emery’s Rating
3 out of 5 Stars
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