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Film Reviews: Let battle begin in punchy debut VS

Fighting talk: Connor Swindells

THE BIG RELEASE

VS

(15) ★★★★✩

A LOW-BUDGET Brit flick featuring a coming-of-age drama set against the hip rap battle scene of, er, Southend-on-Sea, sounds ‘well cringe’, as the kids likely now never say. Yet director Ed Lilly’s debut proves to be a surprisingly authentic and punchy watch, lent a fresh eye by female director of photography Annika Summerson and guidance by real-life UK rap battlers such as Rowan ‘Eurgh’ Faife, Tony D, Gemin1 and Shuffle T.

Connor Swindells is largely persuasive as a troubled foster teen — a wounded little boy inside an almost man — who gets introduced to the UK battle-rap scene and rather too quickly becomes a star. It helps him channel his aggression but when he doorsteps the biological mother who abandoned him to 12 years in care, his demons threaten to destroy everything.

VS gains strength by not trotting out easy Hollywood solutions to complex problems. Nor does it lay on the seaside location too thick. There’s a conscious diversity to the cast and characters in terms of ethnicity, sexuality and gender that’s more cheering than clunky.

Special mention goes to newcomer Fola Evans-Akingbola — another ex-pupil of the Identity School of Acting that launched both John Boyega and Letitia Wright — who injects some female energy into proceedings as the rap-battle crew’s instigator and MC.

With a soundtrack curated by Rob Da Bank and an end theme song by Ray BLK, this is that rare thing, a film that tries to be down with the kids and actually might succeed in talking to them on their level.

Instead of trying to be the English 8 Mile, VS concentrates on doing its own thing and does it well.

The verdict

Oh we do like to rap-battle beside the seaside in this authentic Brit debut.

Dogman

(15) ★★★★✩

From award-winning Gomorrah director Matteo Garrone comes another crime tale similarly set in a poor outlying Italian community ruled over by the Camorra. This one, however, feels less like a Netflix series-in-waiting and more like a timeless fable of one man’s temptation by the devil.

Marcello (Marcello Fonte) is a doleful dog groomer who endearingly adores his canine clients and his little daughter. Weak-willed but kindly, Marcello is fatally in thrall to Simone (Edoardo Pesce), a thuggish, no-limits, cocaine-fuelled monster with ‘Uncle Sam’ stitched on to his jacket, who pulverises anyone or anything who looks at him. When events take an inevitably dangerous turn, will Marcello’s worm turn?

A daring mix of humour, morality play and extreme violence, it’s stunningly composed and just as stunningly acted. Fonte justly scooped best actor at Cannes for his performance. Like Mean Streets as directed by Paolo Sorrentino. With extra poodles.

Also out: More new releases

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