City Rats was released quietly in April and it hasn't gotten much press which is a shame because it is a thoughtful British drama with touches of comedy. It tells the sorry tales of eight loosely connected people in London as they go about their everyday struggle to survive. While not all of the stories work particularly well and the whole thing can feel a bit downbeat, disjointed and even pretentious at times there are scenes that carry a powerful impact with some good performances and stylish direction.
The reason I watched the film in the first place is Danny Dyer. He played Pete, an alcoholic ex-con haunted by his shady past who is confronted by Carol (Natasha Williams) the mother of a missing mate. There's also Olly (Kenny Doughty) who is looking after his autistic brother Chris (James Lance) and seems to be struggling to come to terms with his sexuality as he embarks on a quest to get his brother laid for the first time ever. Then there is the suicidal duo Jim (Tamer Hassan) and Sammy (MyAnna Buring) who meet comically when both are atop skyscrapers thinking about jumping. Sammy's ex Dean (Ray Panthaki) is meanwhile pursuing the prostitute who lives upstairs, Gina (Susan Lynch).
It is all a bit messy as we jump in and out of lives and the lacklustre attempt to tie the threads together fell flat for me. It would have been better if the stories had been left as separate entities. As is generally the case with films of this nature there are intriguing tales and offshoots which just don't inspire. Director Steve Kelly is making the transition from television and he does a great job here. The action is moodily shot with some truly grim London backdrops. The writer Simon Fantauzzo has created some interesting characters but the dialogue wasn't always terribly convincing.
The film works chiefly because of the acting talent and everyone concerned turns in a decent performance. Danny Dyer and Tamer Hassan are both extremely charismatic so you naturally root for their characters. Susan Lynch acted her part beautifully and brought some emotional intensity to the table. James Lance was cast well out of his usual comfort zone and did fairly well with the part.
The film is filled with angst and should probably carry a depression warning. This seems to be a hard and fast rule for British cinema. If it isn't overwhelmingly Richard Curtis style schmaltzy or a crime thriller then it has to be grim, soul searching stuff. City Rats is quite challenging in that regard and all of the protagonists are clearly in some pain with no clue how to deal. There is a glimmer of light towards the end which saves it from being too bleak and there are touches of laugh out loud humour which help to break the tension. Looking at the cover you'd be forgiven for thinking this was another gangster flick but it really isn't so don't watch it on that basis. Overall City Rats is an engaging film and there are enough moments that work to make it worth your time and money but don't expect to emerge uplifted