The Taking (Leeds International Film Festival) Review
Desperation is a terrible thing and you only need to watch a handful of prime time adverts to see how prevalent it is in society. Payday loans, PPI claims, and low interest rate credit cards are everywhere and prey on the weak and needy. As such The Taking which focuses on two market stall holders fight to survive after running afoul of a loan shark feels exceptionally timely. The fact that the film is set in and around the poorer areas of Todmorden only helps to emphasise the timeliness, the desperation of the locale practically seeping through the film.
Within this thick atmosphere of desperation Dawn and Bex are trying to make ends meet. Running a boutique cake and tea shop in a run down market that they wish to escape by way of setting up a cafe. Their dreams are modest, and attainable, they just need an investment of £10,000 that no bank is willing to sign off on. In the world of The Taking, a world all too real and dreary, a small business loan is the greatest of all prize. The script understands this working class ennui all too well and builds it into the fabric of the narrative. Any other film, in a more well to do area, with more middle class characters would have to explain why neither Dawn nor Bex reach out for help during their ordeal. As it stands the film so successfully builds an atmosphere of hopelessness that you never question why Dawn and Bex just shoulder the burden.
Whilst The Taking isn't a horror movie like Brunt’s début feature Before Dawn it uses a lot of the language and style of the genre. Nearly every character in the film is either aggressor or victim and the film uses vignettes dotted throughout the first act to slowly ratchet up the tension. We’re shown a woman in conversation with a friendly, unassuming, salesman for a loan company. He makes a connection, he’s gentle, he does his job well and she agrees to the loan. Following this we’re introduced to Dawn and Bex, but their initial scenes cross cut with scenes of the devastation meted out by the loan companies enforcer, until finally, just before everything goes south for Dawn and Bex, we see that woman from the opening scene in her now ransacked home. The layering of misery, and the escalation of violence, are powerful tools in building the tension and giving the salesman, Jeremy, a real aura of menace.
Whilst Victoria Smurfit and Joanne Mitchell as Bex and Dawn are very much the stars of the film, it is Jonathan Slinger as Jeremy who probably gets the showier role. Playing a true psychopath Jeremy transitions from an amiable dorky charm to insidious violence at the drop of a hat. Slinger absolutely nails the more obsequious elements of the character, his facile sales patter and flirtatious charm masking his capacity and passion for violence. Jeremy is a wretched, often terrifying presence in the film only slightly let down by the occasions of outright anger that Slinger doesn’t quite work. His bursts of rage all screaming, red faced and silly rather than a vent for the natural darkness at the core of the character.
Opposite him Smurfit and Mitchell have a great, bantery, chemistry which easily sells the long and deep history of the characters. They come across as genuine friends and allies and it is refreshing to see a film which has two women at it’s lead who have genuine solidarity and affection for each other. Of the two Smurfit has the slightly easier role, Bex having a fun and brassy charm whilst Dawn has to play the comparative straight woman. Mitchell doesn't get any showy lines or moments and is lumbered by a subplot involving her autistic son and mother that doesn’t really go anywhere. It is a testament to the script that all three main characters feel real and have genuine depth, even Jeremy who is essentially a slasher movie villain is consistent and well realised.
The great script is unfortunately a little undone at times by Brunt’s direction. Whilst he has come on a long way from his début feature, the (relatively) larger scale of the story seems to overwhelm him at times. There are some great moments, but they’re often overshadowed by awkward or at times amateurish moments. At one point a door is opened and the light from outside blanches the entire shot. It’s a shame because these little moments tarnish what is at times a very confident film and they’re not enough to spoil the experience.
There are some very strong highlights, the image of a car ablaze in the moors is quietly iconic, and the final confrontation has the savagery and immediacy of the Gandolfini,Arquette fight from True Romance but on an agonisingly protracted scale.
For its small shortcomings The Taking is still an impressive second feature, with a great script, strong performances and some occasionally bravura (if obviously budget) set pieces.
The Taking will receive a wide release in 2015.
‘The Taking’ had it's première as part of Leeds International Film Festival. More information about the festival can be found here.