Movie Review: “Yardie”

A description of Idris Elba’s first directorial effort, “Yardie,” would make the movie sound as though it is something with real weight to it.  It isn’t.  It is a movie which meanders, never quite at ease with where it is or the story it is telling.

In fact, that is a fair description of the main character, D (Aml Ameen) – he meanders, never quite at ease with where he is or what he is doing.  A decade after seeing his brother, Jerry Dread (Everaldo Creary) get gunned down in Kingston, Jamaica as Jerry was trying to broker a piece between two warring gangs, D is still at a loss in his life.  He now works for one of the gang bosses, King Fox (Sheldon Shepherd), doing various illegal activities, and he has a massive chip on his soldier.

D is, understandably, haunted by the death of his brother, and he thinks that, perhaps, the haunting is a literal one.  He broke up a party for his brother’s spirit nine days after the death and, according to tradition, D has therefore made Jerry into a ghost condemned to walk the Earth.

Elba’s direction of Martin Stellman and Brock Norman Brock’s screenplay (based on the novel by Victor Headley) never lends this concept any heft.  Jerry appears from time-to-time, but usually the effect is more to remind the audience he is a presence in D’s mind as opposed to giving the feeling that he is an albatross whose weight around the neck D constantly feels.  Jerry exists in those moments more for our benefit than D’s detriment.

This is a tale of revenge, of D never being able to get his brother’s killer out of his mind, and destroying every good thing he gets his hand on.  But, it’s a tale of revenge the audience cannot buy into.  Instead, it’s one where those watching will continually ponder how they could possibly be rooting for this guy who makes one bad decision after the next after the next, for this guy who could so easily get out of the life he’s in.

D is sent from Jamaica to London on a job for King Fox, so Fox can get D out of trouble and allow D to reunite with his girlfriend, Yvonne (Shantol Jackson), and daughter, Vanessa (Myla-Rae Hutchinson-Dunwell).  But, D can’t even do that right.  Instead, with little reason, he continues to make everyone’s life worse.

Although I write “with little reason,” the film does offer some.  “Yardie” provides a voiceover from D during the film, one which serves as a way for us to understand the character and the decisions he’s making, but the voiceover isn’t enough of a presence to succeed.  We really cannot grasp why D would make the choices he does, save that he’s doing his best to blow up his life.  But, that’s at odds with other things we know about the character – including his being able to work his way up in King Fox’s gang.  The balance here is a difficult one to achieve, and Elba and Ameen do not get there.

Whether or not the audience is meant to like D, he is certainly a character that has to be understood.  He isn’t. We have bits and pieces of the character, but not the whole, and certainly not enough.

“Yardie” is a movie all about getting into the psyche of the main character, giving the audience an opportunity to understand and sympathize with this gang member and the actions he takes – not to approve them, but to see where he’s coming from and why he might travel this road.  However, the one answer it provides is bloodlust.  D acts out of a sense of revenge and nothing more.  It isn’t enough to carry the story and for that reason “Yardie” is a disappointment.

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photo credit:  Rialto Pictures/Studiocanal

 

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