Accomplished actors, when handled with deftness and competence, can elevate sub-standard drama and turn leaden-footed dialogue into something palatable. Likewise, snappy writing can provide breathing room for less gifted actors and help paper-over any cracks in the performance. In an ideal situation you would have both at your disposal, but at least with one you can make a decent fist of things. Occasionally though, you have the misfortune of stumbling across something in which you get neither and nothing seems to be going right. Clumsy dialogue being hammered into place by a cast clutching at straws, blinking aimlessly as if blinded by the horrendous dazzle of a script illuminated by its own sense of pomposity and struggling, along with the audience, to find any respite from the inanity.
Mile End director Graham Higgins has an idea, a perfectly interesting one, that he might hate the moneyed city boys of London’s Canary Wharf. That their feckless lifestyles among the steel and glass superstructures of the country’s financial centre stand as opulent, phallic insults amidst the ruin and urban decay of the East End. He also has the idea that enough shots of Canada Square juxtaposed with endless footage of a man running, constitutes an interesting story. Punctuated by red herrings and plot holes and left deliberately, deficiently ambiguous, Mile End feels like a brain-storm that was never followed up. All the more irritating is the fact that there is, in this setting and with these types of characters, an interesting story to tell about cynicism, corruption and depression.
Paul (Alex Humes) loses his job at a publishing house and, in a state of lethargic melancholy, decides to take up running. It’s while out running that he meets the enigmatic John (Mark Arnold), a man who at first glance seems jovial, supportive and keen to share with Paul his cynical-yet-cheerful worldview. But soon John becomes an increasing fixture in Paul’s life, ghosting Paul’s daily running and increasingly pushing his anti-capitalist, pseudo-anarchist outlook upon him.
To give Higgins his credit, there is something to be said for his anti-banker, anti-austerity stance and his appreciation of the Ballardian landscape of Canary Wharf and its surroundings. East London, with its ominous towers and shit-strewn river, under the roaring City Airport flight-path, looks and feels like a concrete jungle of excess and danger. And yet John, the conscience of the movie, always feels like a muddled character, an attempt to create something morally and physically ambiguous that feels like a bland contrivance. Alex Humes, as the potentially corruptible, possibly devious man with a secret, delivers each and every line with the same disinterested sneer regardless of when or where or to whom it’s said.
The script takes complete leave of its senses in its final third as Higgins goes for the morally and thematically indistinct conclusion. It’s a move that feels like a death-throw or an artificially imprecise attempt to crow-bar in a sense of mystery and danger into a flaccid and fragmentary movie.
Director: Graham Higgins
Cast: Alex Humes, Mark Arnold, Heidi Agerholm Balle
Runtime: 101 minutes
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