Adam Smith directs the Michael Fassbender/Brendan Gleeson drama Trespass Against Us, a story about Travellers, family and the societal pressures they face. Lee reviews.
Family, right? Can’t live with ‘em because you’re the trapped son of a Traveller communal magnate struggling to save your family from the same fate that has befallen yourself, can’t live without ‘em because you’re a Traveller, so you and your family are obviously wanted criminals, right?
Trespass Against Us has some well-meaning intentions: the father-son conundrum for one, in which Michael Fassbender’s Chad tries to right the wrongs of his father, Brendan Gleeson’s Colby, and get his son (and daughter, though she’s clearly not as important to the story) the education neither he nor his father ever received. Of course, Colby thinks what worked for him works for all, and serves to block Chad’s moves at every step. It’s a tried-and-true dynamic, and the power of manipulation here is relatively well explored, especially in regards to Colby’s plays for Chad’s son Tyson.
There’s some reflection on the hardships that even well-meaning Travellers are exposed to in society, particularly the trials faced by Chad’s wife Kelly, a little exploration of the day-to-day of the Travellers, and even hints that this family might not be particularly the best representative of the group as a whole. Those hints are buried, however, beneath a straightforward screenplay that seems content to raise issues and injustices without ever taking a side or even really telling much of a story at all.
While issues are raised and even contemplated, and we can see reason enough to side with the trodden upon Chad despite his unrepentant criminality, the story never deems it important to resolve itself in any meaningful way. Instead the writers opt for a less interesting ‘everyone stops’ take that seems, perhaps accidentally, self-congratulatory that the issues raised speak for themselves. However, there just isn’t enough going on to really paint this picture well, and if it’s all as simple as it seems, then what makes it interesting?
Couple the limp resolution with some heavy-handed attempts at characterisation, including shots of Chad pursuing falconry because he’s a gentle soul, Kelly stashing money because she has her own plans despite portraying nothing but aggressive passivity in all other respects, and some rather blatant nods to Colby’s Christianity which seems like it wants to say something, but never quite gets there. He’s an abusive ass because he’s Christian, or Christianity just helps explain why he doesn’t need education? There’s a point where leaving the writing open to interpretation just reads as unfinished trains of thought.
Attempts at meaningful imagery are lost in the waves of car chases that, while fun and occasionally lending themselves to the odd good joke, do end up feeling like a distraction from the actual narrative. Moral ambiguity plays a part, with characters like Lester the mentally impaired dog killer and the kidnapping PCs, but it only serves to muddy an already muddy narrative that can’t quite communicate what it’s trying to say to the audience. Maybe the world’s just a murky place?
Acting is top-notch though, and direction perfectly competent. There’s authenticity likely lurking in the accents and dialects, and the scenery feels varied enough to keep interest. Plus, there’s much to be said for the brevity of the film, though it does little to ward off the lingering idea that this story was perhaps originally made with television in mind (or perhaps should have been).
It’ll pass an afternoon when it comes to Netflix, but don’t expect it to stick with you. Maybe if it comes to BBC some night, there’ll be a positive discussion round the office desks or lunch table. Why not aim for the stars; a one-watch Father’s Day gift? Sky’s the limit.
Second film of 2017 with Gleeson and Fassbender as a father-son combo (first: Assassin’s Creed). Domhnall must have been too busy with Star Wars; even still, who doesn’t fantasise carrying Fassbenderic genes?