D: Noel Clarke / 104m
Cast: Noel Clarke, Arnold Oceng, Jason Maza, Cornell John, Shanika Warren-Markland, Tonia Sotiropoulou, Leeshon Alexander, Lashana Lynch, David Ajala, Nick Nevern, Jack McMullen, Michael “Stormzy” Omari, Daniel Anthony, Adjoa Andoh, Red Madrell
And this year’s award for worst second sequel of a British movie goes to…
It’s a category you’re not likely to see at the BAFTAs this year (or any year for that matter), but if you did then Brotherhood would be the odds-on, hands-down winner. A broad mix of revenge drama, juvenile comedy, awkward social commentary, and baffling thriller, Noel Clarke’s conclusion to The Hood Trilogy – following Kidulthood (2006) and Adulthood (2008) – sees him return to the character of Sam Peel and provide fans of the previous entries with a disjointed, exploitation-heavy, credibility-free movie that is let down by Clarke most of all.
Which is a huge shame, as Clarke has consistently fought to make British movies on his own terms and for British audiences first and foremost. When Kidulthood was released, it was the kind of movie that audiences were unfamiliar with. Its gritty, though exaggerated look at a South London teenage sub-culture, was challenging, and a bold statement of intent from Clarke himself, who wrote the script. As well as Clarke, it contained roles for the likes of Adam Deacon, Nicholas Hoult and Rafe Spall, and grabbed enough attention that it spawned a slew of similar, like-minded movies over the next few years. Two years later, Adulthood cemented Clarke’s reputation as an indie movie maker, retaining the original’s gritty, challenging demeanour while exploring themes of revenge and personal responsibility that attempted to add depth to the events of the movie.
The same themes are explored even further in Brotherhood, but as with most second sequels, the law of diminishing returns hits hard, and sees Clarke struggle to piece together a storyline that makes any sense. Ten years on from the events seen in Kidulthood, Sam is holding down four jobs in his efforts to keep his family – partner Kayla (Warren-Markland), and their two young children – together, but it means he doesn’t see as much of them as he needs to. Meanwhile, his younger brother, Royston (Anthony), an up-and-coming singer, is shot and wounded at a gig; the gunman leaves a note “For Sam Peel”.
When Sam learns of the note through one of Royston’s friends, Henry (Oceng), it leads him to an East End gangster called Daley (Maza). Daley explains that Sam, and his family, has been targeted for “past sins”, sins that can be erased if he takes a job working for him. Sam refuses, and is then confronted by Curtis (John), the uncle of Trife, a young man Sam killed ten years before. He wants revenge, and wants Sam to know what it’s like to have nothing. Matters are made worse when a stupid mistake on Sam’s part causes Kayla to leave with the children, and a sudden death pushes Sam over the edge and seeking his own revenge on both Curtis and Daley.
Brotherhood is a mess, both in terms of its plot and storyline, and its overall approach. Clarke can’t seem to connect things in an organic, natural manner, and there are too many scenes that bump up against each other like strangers. Whether or not this was intended from the start – and it’s unlikely that it was – what it means for the movie as a whole is it becomes a succession of unlikely situations and confrontations connected by the thinnest of motivations or a variety of ill-considered choices. Chief among these is the note left for Sam by Royston’s assailant: Henry takes the note home, leaves it there for a day or two (the movie’s timeline is hazy at the best of times), runs into Sam by accident, and only then tells him about it. It’s one of several occasions when the movie prompts disbelief in the viewer, and makes you wonder if Clarke was in too much of a rush to get the movie made, and was forced to cut several corners in the process.
If so, it still doesn’t excuse just how clumsily the plot has been assembled, or how badly it’s been executed. Clarke the writer and Clarke the director often seem at odds with each other, offering contradictions in scene after scene and never meshing together in a way that allows the tortured narrative to make any sense. Early on, Sam catches on that one of Daley’s gang is following him. Sam attacks him, beating him to the ground and injuring his leg, but in the very next minute, Hugs (Alexander), Daley’s enforcer, arrives on the scene and Sam immediately backs down and behaves like a scared child. It’s such an about-face that it’s actually shocking to see Clarke the screenwriter and Clarke the director expose Clarke the actor in such a terrible way, and make what should be a tense, memorable moment one that encourages laughter and further disbelief.
As a result of Clarke’s poorly constructed script, and his equally poor directorial choices, the rest of the cast fare just as badly, and are as poorly served as Clarke himself. Maza gives a mannered performance that’s meant to be menacing, but he’s about as scary as the villain in a Scooby-Doo! movie. John, who’s appeared in all three movies, plays the vengeful Curtis with all the subtlety of a tank crushing roses, while Oceng is the comic relief whose performance is surprisingly enjoyable, but whose character, and his involvement, is at odds with the tone of the rest of the movie.
But worst of all is the callous streak of misogyny that runs throughout the movie, with several scenes that feature “European prostitutes” being paraded completely naked or wearing the kind of lingerie that makes no difference. Their inclusion provides a sour taste that the movie never overcomes (or makes any apology for), and Clarke makes sure that he has sex scenes with Warren-Markland and Sotiropoulou that fail to add to the plot or advance it in any way. The movie seems happier when it’s being violent, and there’s a particularly nasty – and yet, cathartic – scene where Sam takes a nail gun to one of Daley’s goons. But it doesn’t rescue the movie from the tonal and narrative disasters it propagates throughout its running time, and despite everyone’s best efforts, Brotherhood proves to be an unfortunate conclusion to a saga that has never really escaped its rough and ready appearance, or its raw, ill-defined acting.
Rating: 3/10 – low-budget, British “meh”; an unfortunate conclusion to a trilogy of movies that have always been well regarded (though against the odds), Brotherhood is unlikely to be thought of in the same way as either of its predecessors, and is let down by an amateurish sheen that is the responsibility of all concerned, and not just its overstretched writer/director/actor.