Friday October 27, 2000
"A Room for Romeo Brass" is a classic coming-of-age story that swiftly and compellingly assumes the form of a parable of innocence and evil.
This engaging English film, set in a suburban Nottingham blue-collar tract, focuses on two 12-year-olds, Romeo (Andrew Shim) and Gavin (Ben Marshall), next-door neighbors and lifelong friends. They complement each other well: Romeo is a strong, solid boy while the spindly Gavin is about to undergo back surgery that causes him to limp slightly. Both are bright, especially Gavin, and they share a well-developed sense of humor, an effective armor in coping with oncoming adolescence.
The boys look to be friends for life, yet they become estranged with shocking abruptness. Some older boys start picking on them when a stranger, Morell (Paddy Considine), comes to their rescue. Morell is a wiry, ungainly, shabby man of about 25, a bit eccentric in a comical way, and he and the boys take to each other instantly. Morell, in turn, is quite taken by Romeo's older sister, the lovely Ladine (Vicky McClure), who works in a trendy clothing store.
Gavin prankishly maneuvers Morell into purchasing an outlandish sports outfit intended to impress her. When it predictably has the opposite effect, Morell flies into a rage at Gavin, venting dire threats while Romeo is out of earshot. Thoroughly terrified, Gavin retreats, keeping to himself as he awaits surgery.
As fate would have it, Romeo's errant father Joe (Frank Harper), a big, burly guy eager to be welcomed back into his family after a fling with another woman has ended, turns up at this particular moment. Clearly, there is bad blood between father and son, which Morell exploits, making Romeo feel protected and cared about. The irony is that Joe is the one adult who has had the opportunity to see Morell as dangerously deranged, not merely a harmless, comical weirdo who feels more comfortable around kids than adults. In the meantime Morell, fixated totally on Ladine, intends to use Romeo to further his desperate pursuit of his sister while trying to instill in him his profoundly sociopathic views.
In telling this story director Shane Meadows and his co-writer Paul Fraser draw upon their own lifelong friendship. They deftly depict the chilling vulnerability of the normal to the crazy; of the difficulty children have in communicating their fears to their parents when they don't believe they will be taken seriously or are simply too terrified to do so; and of the way even conscientious parents, saddled with multiple responsibilities and distractions, may be maddeningly slow to pick up the sinister aspects of those who associate with their children.
"A Room for Romeo Brass" is an assured, graceful instance of effective screen storytelling, and Meadows draws splendid performances from his cast, especially from the young Shim and Marshall, and from Considine, alternately scary and pathetic. What Meadows and Fraser are celebrating is family solidarity--and the dangers that lurk when those bonds are frayed.
A Room for Romeo Brass, 2000. R, for pervasive language, and for some elements of violence and sexuality. A USA Films release of an Alliance Atlantis Communications and BBC Films presentation in association with the Arts Council of England of a Company Pictures/Big Arty production. Director Shane Meadows. Producers George Faber, Charles Pattinson. Executive producers Andras Hamori, David M. Thompson. Screenplay by Paul Fraser and Shane Meadows. Cinematographer Ashley Rowe. Editor Paul Tothill. Costume designer Robin Fraser Paye. Music Nick Hemming. Production designer Crispian Sallis III. Running time: 1 hour, 28 minutes. Andrew Shim as Romeo Brass. Ben Marshall as Gavin "Knocks" Wooley. Paddy Considine as Morell. Frank Harper as Joseph, Romeo's dad.