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May 9, 2015
The feature film debut of Simon Blake begins as a study of grief; Aidan Gillen (Game of Thrones, Calvary) is Tom Carver, a divorced photographer whose teenage son was killed by a hit-and-run driver a year earlier. His life has since fallen apart. Once an artist, he now takes school portraits.
He lives in a run-down house with his successful girlfriend Christina (Elodie Yung). But while she goes out to meet friends, he stays indoors smoking weed and snorting cheap cocaine with his friend Ed (Jonathan Singer, better known for his stage work), a journalist working on a piece about a knife crime which left a teenager dead.
Tom befriends the victim’s younger brother, Jimmy (Joseph Duffy), with whom he forms a bond. But this relationship is interrupted by a street gang, who target Tom after a seemingly innocent brush in the street one day.
This is where the film’s second strand begins and the problems start. I would much rather have watched a character study about grief (as you do…) than a ‘gritty thriller’ about London street gangs. Perhaps the best known example of the latter is Harry Brown, in which Michael Caine acts as a vigilante for his council estate. But that film shares similar problems with Still, in that neither says anything about why children become part of such gangs. I believe there is an important film to be made about gang crime, but unfortunately this isn’t the answer.
Perhaps the biggest problem with Still is that Blake fails to make us believe in what’s happening. Occasionally clunky dialogue, plot contrivances and an unconvincing character arc all detract from an otherwise well-made film. Although the latter stages of Still are, to some extent, unfortunately reminiscent of Clint Eastwood’s ridiculously overrated Mystic River, Blake’s direction occasionally evokes the memory of the early work of Martin Scorsese. The way he and cinematographer Andy Parsons shoot London streets has echoes of Taxi Driver, and the desaturated red tint to some scenes was eerily reminiscent of Mean Streets.
The enigmatic title presumably refers to the nature of Tom’s profession. For him, photos are frozen memories, some of which he would like to return to, some of which he would very much like to forget.
The film’s brooding atmosphere succeeds in making us feel uncomfortable, particularly in the scene in which Tom meets Christina after she returns home late one night. But I struggled to see the point. The thriller elements of the plot are so superficial that these moments are unsettling without making us truly believe in them.
The entire cast deliver strong performances, particularly Gillen and Slinger, who are compelling and very understated, and in the end it’s them who hold it all together, even though the plot surrounding them is by comparison, much weaker.
It would be unfair of me to say that Blake has failed here, because he hasn’t. But it feels like he’s trying to make two films at once, resulting in something that is ultimately very muddled, until both films come together in the mesmerising final shot and we wonder if it was all worth it. I’m still not sure whether or not it was.
Still is in UK cinemas from May 8th