Sugarhouse

The colliding of two worlds — that of a well-off man who feels distraught after his wife has left him and a drug addict living in abject poverty — Sugarhouse is a gritty drama with a decent script, but it’s nothing we haven’t seen before. It is not wholly original, but the characters are solid and the actors make the most of the material.

Sugarhouse began life as a play called Collision, which debuted at London's Old Red Lion theatre to critical acclaim. The script was then redeveloped for the screen. Watching the movie, and before even knowing that it was originally a stage production, I thought that it did seem more suited to the theatre. Tom (Mackintosh) and D (Walters) first meet in a run-down café in East London. D has something that Tom wants so he leads Tom to his "yard", a council estate dominated by drugs and violence — most of which are meted out by drug dealer Hoodwink (Serkis). D is restless and does little to put Tom at ease. Tom wants the deal done, so he can leave as quickly as possible.

Across the estate, Hoodwink discovers that someone has stolen his gun from his flat, and the last person who was in his flat and only person who knew where the gun was kept was, of course, D. Enraged, he is determined to find the gun. Why? Well, as a murder weapon, if it falls into the hands of the police, Hoodwink will be enjoying some "alone" time at Her Majesty’s pleasure. Hoodwink tracks down D and Tom and after they both take a beating we see the story behind each character begin to unfold. The film relies heavily on its actors to really make the most of each character. If the cast was not so worthy, it would fall somewhat flat. Mackintosh plays Tom as a man who swings from one extreme to the other — monosyllabic one minute, raging the next. Former rapper Walters (once a member of So Solid Crew) is an up and coming talent, but to really prove himself he will have to take on some varied characters and move things up a notch. Serkis again proves that he is able to play any character thrown at him. As Hoodwink he portrays a lunatic with serious anger management issues who gets what he wants, when he wants it.

Sugarhouse is not a bad film, but it's not great either. Having said that, though, there are some very clever little bits here and there. The final shot in particular, is excellent in the sense of what it stands for. The story takes place on a run-down estate, but as the camera pans out, the corporate towers of Canary Wharf loom above — symbolising the differences between the two lead characters, but also the similarities and the fact that both worlds are actually in very close proximity to one another.

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SECOND OPINION | Neil Davey ***½ Yawn. A British movie set ... guess where? Yep. On a council estate. Give those filmmakers a prize. Now make the focus of the story ... guess what? Yes indeedy. The criminal fraternity. Whoop-de-bloody-do. Throw those filmmakers a party for originality. And now take all the sarcasm back because Sugarhouse, for all its abject lack of originality on one level, delivers three of the best performances of the year to date. The swines. Just when we were on a roll, too. While the debate can rage / continue / fester over why the Britsh film industry can only inject spark and energy into films about violent criminals — and believe me, I’ll lead that debate if you want me to — as long as there are scripts like Dominic Leyton’s Sugarhouse and directors like Gary (possibly some relation to Nick?) Love, then the industry has more than a fighting chance. Just please let it be the sort of fighting chance that doesn’t involve bicycle chains, knuckle dusters and East End boozers.

The three leads are astonishingly good, overcoming the film’s shortcomings with impressive ease. Mackintosh is highly impressive, given that his jittery normal bloke has the least acting pyrotechnics involved and he holds his own against Serkis — playing Hoodwink with such intensity you’ll get a migraine — and, the surprise package, Walters. Indeed, overall Walters probably shades the acting honours, making what could have been an East End Ratso Rizzo / junkie cliché into somebody deeply flawed but undeniably human. Sugarhouse is not a perfect film, by any stretch of the imagination, but thanks to the lead three, it is an intensely watchable, bleakly funny one. Now, can we inject this level of energy into a rom com? Or a drama? Or a road movie? Or a thriller? Or a ...

Official site
Sugarhouse 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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