DVD Review: OFFENDER, Expressing Stylish Outrage At England's Young Offender System Of Justice
Sometimes I've gotten so angry that it felt as though steam would blow out of my ears and the top of my head would blow off, like a cartoon character.
A similar depth of emotion roils through Ron Scalpello's Offender. The film seethes with anger about England's treatment of young offenders, especially the institutions where law-breakers between the ages of 18 and 21 are housed in overcrowded conditions under the oversight of guards who, by and large, don't give a toss about the young men in their charge.
The script by Paul Van Carter, however, confuses the issue by introducing a protagonist who assaults a police officer without apparent provocation and then smiles when he is sentenced to two years behind bars. Tommy (Joe Cole) is an angry young man, taciturn toward all, and downright surly toward the few who endeavor to offer a helping hand. Obviously, he's harboring a tremendous amount of resentment and fury, and it has something to do with his pregnant girlfriend. The specifics are not revealed immediately, and when they are, it affects the portrait of Tommy that's been painted by the film, further muddying the waters from a narrative standpoint.
Scalpello's direction is stylish to the point of distraction, making such an extensive use of slow-motion that I began to wonder about its purpose. When young people are shown committing a crime, and then making their getaway, mounting their vehicles in gorgeous slow-motion, is it meant to glamorize the criminals? Or to show how they view themselves? Later, when young offenders are shown behind chain-link fences, marching to their exercise period, and are again shown in slow motion, is it meant to glamorize the offenders? Or to show how they view themselves? And then, when some of the offenders start rapping in the yard, and the soundtrack blows up with music, is that meant to show that the offenders are making the best of a bad situation? Or that it's really cool to get locked up?
Giving the filmmakers the benefit of the doubt, I'd hazard a guess that they knew they were dealing with a potentially dire and dry issue, and wanted to make the film look as good as possible so as to draw the younger crowd, who might then better relate to it. But it's not at all clear what message is to be taken away from the film, except that justice is sometimes blind and getting locked up might cost you your life, which might be better than dying in the streets.
As Tommy, Joe Cole burns brightly, and is mesmerizing in his scenes. As the chief villain Jake, however, rapper and musician English Frank looks like he's on stage, rolling his eyes and shoulders to little effect, as far as providing any true menace.
Offender addresses a subject that may be of greater relevance in England, but has a hard time transcending its stereotypical characters and (mostly) predictable storyline.
The film is available on DVD from Revolver Entertainment.
- Audio: Offered in Stereo 2.0 and 5.1. Dolby Digital.
- Picture: Rock steady and colorful, as is to be expected with a recent film.
- Deleted Scenes: 8 in total, ranging from 40 seconds to 2 minutes, 8 seconds; some are snipped scenes, while others are extended versions of scenes in the movie. No 'play all' option.
- Interviews with Cast: 10 interview segments with cast members Daniel Kendrick, English Frank, G Frsh 1, Joe Cole, and Kimberley Nixon.
- Riots Featurette - Version 1: Behind the scenes footage of the street riots sequence, totaling 2 minutes, 28 seconds.
- Riots Featurette - Version 2: This version runs 2 minutes, 16 seconds, containing much of the same footage as Version 1.
- Director's Featurette: Interview with director Ron Scalpello. Runs 3 minutes, 32 seconds.
- Music Video - Daytime Version: Yes it is. Runs about 3 minutes.
- Music Video - Nighttime Version: Same song.