Whatever could it be about the largely middle class British film industry that makes its representations of young inner-city lives often so cringy? It needn’t be so. As the excellent Shifty proves, films about the poorer parts of modern Britain can be both boldly cinematic and grimly authentic.
Riz Ahmed plays Shifty, a low-level drug dealer in a tight spot with his supplier Glen (a menacing Jason Flemyng). Daniel Mays is Chris, his once best friend recently back in London after several years absence.
Chris is tagging along for the day and it’s through his eyes that we see all the tragic-comic sights that Shifty has long since become inured to: the yuppie stoners’ awkward attempts at small talk, the ex-hippies who have fallen into serious addiction and a desperate father hiding a coke habit from his family…
Where Kidulthood took a broad sweep at several yoof issues (knife crime, teen pregnancy, bullying…), Shifty succeeds by telling one story about a friendship altered by time and telling it well. In doing so it casts a much more affecting and insightful light over its subject.
First-time director Eran Creevy has wisely decided that – in this instance at least – realism is best served not by rounding up local teens and pointing a camera at them, but by forking out for some proper acting talent. Both leads are terrific, but Mays, who appeared in Atonement and Mike Leigh’s Vera Drake, is particularly convincing. It’s thanks to him, as much as Creevy’s script, that viewers are never once put in mind of Richard Madeley’s Ali G impression.
But Creevy’s greatest achievement is his cinematic vision of London’s ignored landscapes. No music-video edits or flashy camerawork here – Shifty uses tower blocks framed by overcast skies, dark rooms and heavy silences to create a powerful sense of claustrophobia and wasted potential.
Ellen E Jones
Mercifully free of Danny Dyer cameos or Guy Ritchie mockneyisms, this works as both an entertaining gangster thriller and a hard-hitting piece of social realism. Absorbing, moving and authentic, Shifty never once strikes a false note.