Ill Manors is the directorial debut of Ben Drew, a.k.a. Plan B, a.k.a. the main bad lad out of Harry Brown and Carter in The Sweeney remake, and was inspired by his song of the same name that was about the summer riots of 2001 that took place in London. With that in mind, you probably know how Ill Manors is going to look and sound, and for fans of Plan B that’s probably about as good as it gets. But how is it if you don’t follow the Plan?
Set over several days in Forest Gate, East London, Ill Manors tells the stories of several loosely-linked characters who spend their time robbing, pimping, murdering and doing drugs. Amongst it all there’s the young wannabe who tries too hard to impress the local gang and shoots the wrong person, the low-life thug pimping his whore around the local takeaways for £20 a go, two naive 15 year-old girls who get convinced they’re good-looking enough to be models, an illegal Polish immigrant who dumps her baby on a train and Aaron (Riz Ahmed), who seems to have a hand in all the characters lives and is the central pivot around which all the stories rotate.
For all of its supposed ‘realism’ and ‘gritty urban angst’, Ill Manors is so absurd it comes across as parody. The script(!) is so full of expletives that any threat that is trying to be conveyed is lost amongst the overuse of f’s and c’s; it may be the way that modern street gangs talk but in a two-hour film all it does is hammer home the fact that that kind of faux-gangsta rap dialogue is hilariously laughable.
There is no actual narrative thread to Ill Manors. Instead, there are several characters whose individual stories intertwine during the course of the film, no doubt in a vague attempt to emulate Tarantino or other culturally significant works such as Paul Haggis’ Crash, but ultimately it’s no more than a series of clichés strung together by somebody thinking they’re giving you a snapshot of the ‘real’ Britain. Ben Drew’s motives may be commended but by telling his stories using despicable characters that you wouldn’t piss on if they were on fire, he gives us, as viewers, nothing to latch on to; even the supposed ‘heroes’ are so utterly devoid of any likeable characteristics that you’re really just watching an ensemble of degenerates skulk around, calling each other ‘bruv’ in put-on rapper accents and generally living up to the stereotypes that get bundled around.
The obvious good intentions and relatively polished production values are the best things about Ill Manors, and given a better script and maybe a bit more outside influence then maybe Ben Drew will get to make the profound statement he so desperately wants to make. But as it is, his overly-indulgent rapped commentaries that introduce several of the scenes, one-dimensional script and clichéd characters all collide together to make something of a mess, and an unintentionally hilarious one at that.