A filmmaker’s intentions can often become divorced from their completed movie. Making films is hard, and the journey involves many compromises, so it’s not uncommon for a story to lose its way. Richard Jobson’s New Town Killers has that spark – a strong, personal, emotive subject – but where it lays its hat is definitely not its home.
Sean (James Anthony Pearson) is an orphaned teenager, sharing a flat with his sister, Alice (Liz White). He is quick-witted, clever, streetwise, but his circumstances place him on the margins of society. Their flat is on a tough council estate and Alice, who’s not as savvy as Sean, is in debt to the sort of people you don’t want to be in debt to.
Into this world of hard knocks and little opportunity step Alistair (Dougray Scott) and Jamie (Alastair Mackenzie), private bankers with money to burn and a desire for thrills that exploits the poor, the unlucky and the unfortunate. They find Sean and offer him entry into a game that, if he’s successful, will solve all his family’s money worries. The game: don’t let Alistair and Jamie catch you and kill you.
It’s an intriguing setup but one that ultimately doesn’t serve its ‘message’ particularly well. In creating a gritty, suspenseful chase movie there is the expectation of fast-paced action and set pieces, as well as dollops of tension and anxiety. But this doesn’t harmonise with the core of the film that wants to talk about disenfranchised, marginalised people. In a way, creating an entertainment, a fiction, leads you away from the most important part of the story.
Richard Jobson is to be admired for his desire to try and tell these stories, however, and his embrace of digital technology means his movies actually get made, and watched. New Town Killers has its powerful elements too: Dougray Scott is exceptionally menacing, his maniacal performance grabbing attention, and James Anthony Pearson is a believable lead with genuine warmth.
As a conventional thriller New Town Killers works reasonably well, it’s fitfully entertaining and neatly edited into a 98-minute package. But when you bolt on its subtext the weight of this unbalances the movie, making it neither fish nor fowl.