Rapper stroke falsetto warbler Ben Drew, better known as Plan B, is clearly a crucible of creativity. Although his first feature film as a director, Ill Manors, suggests that his inner city social commentary and mean streets philosophising lacks any progressive message.
Ill Manors follows a number of characters as they go about their lives in and around a London estate. Intertwining events pull them together throughout the film, with the multifaceted plot featuring drug deals, murders, gun crime and a lost baby.
While the film spends its first third establishing the drudgery and thuggery of everyday existence for those living in poorer areas of the capital, it quickly descends into the realms of improbable farce. Ill Manors essentially does not know whether it wants to be gritty and real in the vein of Boyz n the Hood or a violent caper laced with stereotypes, like Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels. In fact the Guy Ritchie connection becomes even more pronounced during the closing scenes, with a plot point heavily reminiscent of a particular moment in Snatch.
Ill Manors is by no means bad, but it is problematic. Rather than dismantling the rampant misogyny and abuse it portrays, it veers more towards reinforcing it. Or at best shrugging its shoulders and saying ‘That’s just the way life is’.
Narration by Ben Drew in the form of rap montage interludes establish characters, typically by explaining their damaged childhood and linking this to their adult state of existential disarray. There is the hint of a subplot involving a social worker and the chance for redemption, but this is sidelined in favour of the more convoluted plot points that align the trajectories of the film’s major players.
What is most disappointing is that, despite the promise of promoting big ideas, Ill Manors actually retreads plenty of ground already covered by recent releases. Anyone who is familiar with the work of Noel Clarke will not find anything revolutionary here. Which leaves TV series Top Boy as the enduring choice for someone who wants realism and depth in their grimey urban adventures.