Borrowed Time review

Kevin (Barklem-Biggs), a dysfunctional young man with obvious if unstated mental health issues, has lands himself in a bit of a pickle with a local drug dealer Ninja Nigel (Luther’s Brown). In an effort to raise the money he needs to pay him back, he pawns a family heirloom taken from his sister’s flat – a carriage clock, which gives the film its title. Kevin’s unpredictable and chaotic behaviour has also led to an estrangement from his sister who, as a single parent, is no longer comfortable with his spending time around her son. With the psychotic dealer out for blood he decides to rob an eccentric local OAP Phillip (Davis) after some helpful advice from some estate kids.

Despite the trappings of the grim British urban grime sub-genre, Borrowed Time is actually a gentle and ultimately cockle-warming story of unlikely friendship. Kevin needs to find a steady point from which he can recalibrate his life, and Phillip is a man who has run out of hope and been defeated by loneliness. The path these two souls take trying to reach some redemption is, however, strewn with difficulties.

The film was shepherded through production by Film London’s Microwave scheme, which offers first time filmmakers assistance with script development and a potential £100,000 budget to make a feature. Previous Microwave films have included the horror film Mum & Dad, Shifty and Plan B’s Ill Manors. The scheme has an impressive 100% record in achieving theatrical releases for its productions, but Borrowed Time initially looked like it might break the streak, struggling to find a distributor. This inspired the filmmakers to undertake a Kick-starter campaign to raise modest funding (£20,000) to allow them to self-distribute. The campaign was a success and voila, a release beckons.

Borrowed Time is far from a perfect film, but given very limited resources and time constraints, first-time writer/director Bishop has done an impressive job bringing it to the screen. Unlike most films of this scale, Borrowed Time was shot on film, meaning limited takes and a strict shooting regime were essential. In the debit column there are rough edges on show, some of the performances outside the leads are a little shaky, and the ending is a little too neat. I was never clear on what the nature of Kevin’s issues were. Does he have mental health issues, is he an addict, or is he just a little weird?

However, there are quite a few marks in the plus column. The film is funny without losing its edge of realism. Davis is superb and brings something of Wilfred Bramble’s Steptoe to his slovenly grouch of a pensioner. The rest of the principle cast rise to Davis’ level. Barklem-Biggs will be most familiar from his role as an equally disturbed teenager in The Inbetweeners Movie, and even though Kevin’s problems seem ill-defined his committed performance papers over the cracks. Oldfield (a relatively new face who appeared in Nicholas Winding-Refn’s Bronson) makes a welcome decision not to play a working class single mother as a foul-mouthed comedy sketch character. There is an excellent debut performance from child actor Cozzolino as her son (his scenes with Davis are among the films’ highlights). Brown manages the difficult task of making his drug dealing antagonist both scary and rather pathetic (all of his best moves are ripped off Bruce Lee movies).

There is a concerted effort in the film to portray the existence of urban youth in a realistic light, but not to play up to typical gang movie clichés. This is most apparent with the estate youths who act as a kind of Greek chorus in the drama, popping up to deliver essential exposition. Rather than threatening figures in hoodies, they are witty, funny figures in hoodies (there is a difference).

Borrowed Time is exactly the sort of film first-time director schemes should be supporting. It isn’t going to change the world, but it showcases promising talents and offers them experience. Of course, the real challenge in UK film is getting a second film financed. I Bishop the best of luck, and look forward to more movies.

Borrowed Time at IMDb

Stuart O'Connor is the Managing Editor of Screenjabber, the movie review website he co-founded with Neil Davey far too many years ago. He likes all genres, as long as the film is good (although he does enjoy the occasional bad "guilty pleasure"), and drinks way too much coffee.

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