Son of Rambow Review
To generalise terribly, children tend to be romanticised by movies. Youth and innocence are venerated, and the form likes to indulge in the unlikely fantasies of young minds. Very, very rarely are children little other than caricatures or miniaturised ideal versions of what adults would like themselves to be. This tendency is especially so in films for children, which after all have to be checked out and verified by parents keen to promote role models and morals rather than empathy or wickedness. The truth is, of course, quite different. I have vivid memories of watching a bootleg copy of the Evil Dead at a friend's house when I was barely in my teens and thrilling at the grossness of the undergrowth attacking the women. Back then, films were my gateway to the bad behaviour I had only heard of, and for a lot of kids movies represent an empowerment - an escape from tidiness and propriety, and an indulgence of those feelings our parents wouldn't want to know about.
Son of Rambow is a movie which allows kids to be their beastly, violent, thieving and cruel selves. Set in the middle eighties, the two kids at its centre learn to break convention, rules and promises, and slowly grow into the people they'll become through learning about screwing up, letting mum down, and rebelling against the idea that adults know best. Like myself, becoming fascinated by the carnal intentions of evil foliage, Will, a child of the Plymouth brethren, learns that the outside world is a crazy, exciting place where you can get cheap thrills and make big mistakes.
His guide through this education is not his teachers, his mother, the memory of his dead dad or the elders of his community, but a tearaway kid, Lee Carter. What starts off as bullying becomes deeper friendship based on imagination and an outsider role model in the decidedly child inappropriate Rambo. They bunk off school, and Will learns to lie and shoplift as the two start a project to make their own film for the TV program Screen Test. That project becomes a deep and abiding friendship which challenges both the kids' backgrounds.
By setting this tale in the past, the film-makers create some level of connection for the parents accompanying their charges to see it, and this means that the tone is more adult than you would necessarily expect. But the tone is one which is remarkably consistent and grounded, and meets the two ages of its audience by treating both maturely and telling a story which is as much about adults throwing off their chains as children growing into their responsibilities. For the pratfalls, slapstick and supreme surreality of a science teacher being attacked by a guide dogs for the blind money box flying through his classroom window, there is also a strong sense that Will's example causes his family to embrace happiness again by rejecting their religious control.
Like a lot of small British films, it is often a challenge to see this as a cinematic story rather than big TV released for the cinema. Some of this territory has been walked before by the TV adaptation of Oranges are the Only Fruit, and the shooting and editing techniques are often scaled down for the smaller screen, but then the movie does something marvellous like the cartoon dream sequence, the flying dog, two funny montages, and the inter-cutting of the original Rambo with the story to remind you that this is a film. Also worthy of note, at its beginning and end there are complementary zoom shots using a kitchen hatch which introduce and reveal Will's family, and a fine dolly around a sixth form common room which is witty and commendably fluid.
As I eluded to above, the film is also well observed in terms of adults and children, but also the time it evokes. The dialogue uses well chosen slang to inform the characters, and balances two very different kids well whilst remaining true to their motivations - the responsible Will and the bragging Lee. All of the adults seem rather unhappy or foolish, with schoolteachers as vain beardies, Lee's older brother lost in his adolescence, and the dreadful repressed Brethren. The best feature of the film for this viewer came in how it evoked school, with the cool kids, the trends and the exchange students. The sequences with Didier, the existential French poseur and his posse are priceless as they walk in formation like The Wild Bunch or the black suited gang in Reservoir Dogs.
The very resolution of the film is a bit emotional, and the kind of thing that only happens in the world of the multiplex but for its commitment to intelligent and mature storytelling I forgive this indulgence. Son Of Rambow may give children some very bad ideas when they see it, but it will encourage many to make their own mistakes and not just stick to repeating the sins of their fathers like good little drones. Its love of flights of fancy is genuine and its joy of friendship is unquestionable, and, in short, this is a remarkable step up from the director's previous work.
What you get is an honest and excellent British film about childhood, cinema and empowerment, and our cinema has not done that for a very long time indeed. Skills...
Issued on a dual layer disc, Son of Rambow is a bumper package with a high bit-rate transfer. Announced as Region B, the check disc we received was actually coded for all regions but had limited compatibility on Region A machines. I tested the disc on my Region A player and found that the forced trailers at its start played jerkily but the menu would not show even though the main feature would play once you pressed enter at the presumed menu. Testing the disc on a Region A PS3 resulted in a black screen and nothing more. Optimum have since confirmed to us that while the check disc was coded for all regions - as they originally announced - the retail disc will be coded for Region B only. The only real disappointment with the transfer of this film is that it is a MPEG-2 encode, as the average bit rate is around 20 Mbits and the total file size is 25 GB. Detail is strong, the black levels are superb and the summer glow of the film is replicated well in the colour balance. The periphery is sometimes soft but this is how the film was shot, and not due to a lack of information in the transfer.
The audio options include an audio descriptive track and there are hard of hearing English subtitles as well. The movie can be watched with a good 5.1 mix, or the much more impressive DTS HD Master Audio track. Surround effects on both are simple and well done with music and effects mixed around the side and rears and no obvious complaints in terms of distortion or source imperfections. Voices are always mixed high as this is a dialogue driven movie, for all its pratfalls and action, and they are always found at the front of the mix. Space is created admirably in the few interior sequences with the LFE track content mostly to provide rumble rather than explosions. The 5.1 mix is commendable, but for those with setups that can play it properly the MA track is richer, more detailed and definitely the way to go.
The extras are many, often including the two lead child actors, Will Poulter and Bill Milner, the writer/director, Garth Jennings, and the producer, Nick Goldsmith. They all collaborate on a commentary which is more fun than it should be with Jennings taking the mickey out of Cameron Crowe's commentary for Vanilla Sky throughout with improvised and highly inappropriate music. All four enjoy the fact that the adults were getting the kids to do all the things they shouldn't - smoking, shoplifting and bootlegging - and this is one of the more entertaining tracks I have heard in a while with adults larking more than the kids.
All four discuss the film around a kitchen table in the making of which includes audition footage and a tour of Jennings and Goldsmith's production offices situated on barges. Jennings reveals that the tale is inspired by his own love of Rambo: First Blood which was a forbidden fruit of his childhood and the two leads talk about getting cast and learning film jargon. Poulter and Milner are interviewed again for another piece, and seem worldly wise about the idea that acting will be a proper career for them. Jessica Hynes is interviewed separately and talks about liking the script, and expecting not to get the part.
Some deleted footage of a particularly boring geography lesson is included with the film's trailer as the last two directly film related extras. In addition, one of Jennings' Rambo influenced home movies, Aron Part one, is included as is a home movie by some people called the Dunn Family which won a US competition. The latter piece is all about spies and fights, but the check disc copy that I had didn't really explain why this had been included.
There is a single main menu from which all options are available which is an animated version of Will's drawings from the film. It is a novel idea and quite cute but switching between extras is more difficult than I would have liked.
A film about growing up which will appeal to those of you who learned to love movies in your adolescence, and that will remind many of the experimentation and wickedness which you got away with back then. This is a fine release for those with Region B players.
Last updated: 18/04/2018 22:41:37