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The Great Ecstasy of Robert Carmichael

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Posted 27th April 2009 at 01:54 PM by Philleh

Aaah, the United Kingdom. Home of football hooligans, happy slapping and indeed daisy chaining! If you are yet to hear of the latter then you should be chuffed to be living in a society that has some sort of control over its youth. Few British films in recent times have had the giblets to portray Britain as it is: preferring to revel in a cinematic bubble of Richard Curtis productions or Guy Richie clones. The Great Ecstasy of Robert Carmichael is about to change that… Welcome to the jungle.

When it premiered at Cannes in 2006 it was greeted with usual furore and controversy that all the best titles from the festival make. Few critics, who hadn’t left the screenings disgusted, saw this film for what it is, A Clockwork Orange for the Blair/Brown generation. Only this time the director wasn’t willing to pull it from the British public, worried of what it will lead too, Thomas Clay wants to start something: a debate, on why British males are becoming more and more aggressive…

Based in Newhaven (a picturesque costal town), it starts off with a young Muslim boy on his way to school. Just down the road he is accosted by an older, white boy who racially insults and attacks him, the attacker is Ryan (Ryan Winsley), a foul-mouthed friend of hopeful young cello player Robert Carmichael (Dan Spencer). We are introduced to Robert at the end of a lesson, where his teacher practically begs him to focus on his study, seeing that his potential is clearly being compromised by his friends. After class he walks to meet his friends, his journey there is met by insults from nearly every female he walks by, he is an outcast that they can not relate too.

The friends decide to ditch the rest of the day and go and meet the cousin of Ryan, who has just been released from prison for a drugs charge. Larry (Severance’s Danny Dyer, in a brilliant role) is an undeniably charismatic person, sucking the younger boys in with tales of drunken brawls and his access to drugs: not to mention the girls that flock around him, all half his age and in school with the boys. He’s a role model of the worst kind.

Larry takes the boys to some near-by flats where he plans to get them some drugs and smash the granny out of the young lady. In a brilliantly handled scene, Rob crashes out on a sofa, watching Blair bang on about toppling Saddam, as Larry and a few boys go into a bedroom with the girl. Soon after screams can be heard, over some extremely loud hardcore music that the drug dealer and his mate are trying to mix: occasionally going into the room to tell them to shut the **** up and keep the noise down. It’s a horrifying moment.

It isn’t too long before Larry is sent back to jail and the boys are back on the street, angry, drugged up and looking to vent their frustrations. Unfortunately for a rich chef and his glamorous wife, the boys have found their way to their very nice house in the country and the green-eyed monster is burning inside them all. What follows is the most shocking piece of British cinema you’ll have seen in some time!

The Great Ecstasy of Robert Carmichael sets out to shock, it is Thomas Clay’s prime objective and he succeeds marvellously. As I mentioned earlier, he wants his audience to talk about the violence, its reasoning and its consequences. He’s not offering any answers here; he wants you to find your own way there. Some may not be up to the challenge but those who are, may find themselves with one of the most rewarding films in some time. I myself have not been able to shake the film from my mind: I saw it four months ago and only just feel comfortable writing this. Along with the French art-horror, Twentynine Palms, this is the only film to have lured me in and truly devastate me in recent memory.

Wonderful cinematography is a major bonus for the film; each frame is a lovely composition. The gang rape scene with Larry is shot in one take as the camera just observes the room in which Robert is watching the news, never breaching the room where the deed is taking place. The shattering finale is filmed in the same way, only this time, all is on display to the viewer. ‘Observation’ is the key word for this film. Thomas Clay wishes to observe these hideous acts, not to judge the characters and heavy hand his audience. Considering this is his directorial debut, the confidence Clay has in himself and his ability is reminiscent of the character Larry, he knows what he’s doing and will happily accept the consequence of his actions: It’s bold film-making and I look forward to his future projects.

The actors all do stand-up jobs, seeing as the majority are actually amateurs; once again this goes to show the talent of Thomas Clay. He has got performances many directors could only dream of eliciting from their cast. The star is, of course, Danny Dyer, who has starred in his fair share of brutal films of late, such as Straight heads, The Business, Football Factory & Outlaw. His presence here demands your attention and he pulls a career best performance. I don’t rate him as an actor, but he is used to great effect here.

The Great Ecstasy of Robert Carmichael is one hell of a depressing film, topped off with such a shocking finale; it may be too much for some viewers. Those who are into shock cinema and are prepared to invest not just time, but thought, into this watch will find themselves distraught but entirely better for it. This film is a true diamond in the rough.

Directed by:
Thomas Clay

Danny Dyer
Dan Spencer
Ryan Winsley

Recommendations: A Clockwork Orange & Twentynine Palms
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  1. Old Comment
    I must admit to not having heard much about this film, so thanks for such a well written review Philleh.

    I'll definetly be looking out for this film now.
    Comment with Quote permalink
    Posted 27th April 2009 at 02:30 PM by vipco vipco is offline
  2. Old Comment
    Philleh's Avatar
    Glad you enjoyed it Vip's

    Although I should warn you, the finale is truly horrific and it's pretty much all sexualised violence; so you may wish to approach with caution!
    Comment with Quote permalink
    Posted 27th April 2009 at 02:36 PM by Philleh Philleh is offline
  3. Old Comment
    Almar@Cult Labs's Avatar
    It does sadly seem to be true - this increase of aggression - not just men though - it can be pretty scary out there sometimes when you accidentally bump into someone for instance. the flipside is you find yourself turning into an intolerant git and ultimately it only pushes you down.
    Comment with Quote permalink
    Posted 28th April 2009 at 07:52 PM by Almar@Cult Labs Almar@Cult Labs is offline
  4. Old Comment
    Philleh's Avatar
    Too true Almar. There's a 'fan' group on facebook which is pretty much "I want to punch slow walkers in the back of the head" - that scares me. I know it's more than likely a joke, but who's to say on the right/wrong day, someone will lash out at something as trival as the pace someone walks?
    Comment with Quote permalink
    Posted 30th April 2009 at 08:49 PM by Philleh Philleh is offline
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