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THE SELFISH GIANT (review)

selfish_giant_ver2THE SELFISH GIANT
Written and Directed by Clio Barnard
Starring Conner Chapman, Shaun Thomas and Sean Gilder
 

Swifty: Don’t even think about it Arbor, it’s too risky.

It seems like a gamble to cast two unknown child actors with no previous onscreen experience as leads in a film, but British filmmaker, Clio Barnard, takes precisely that chance and thank God she did. In her first feature, Barnard casts Conner Chapman and Shaun Thomas as Arbor and Swifty, two 13-year-old best friends, in this heartbreaking film about depravity and greed. THE SELFISH GIANT is an impressive and unique narrative feature debut that announces Barnard as one of the best new voices in British cinema.

After getting expelled from school for physically defending themselves from a bully, the two boys, eager to help their financially struggling families, spend their days searching for scrap metal to sell. Scrap metal buyer, Kitten (Sean Gilder), jumps at the opportunity to exploit the young boys, and though they are being criminally underpaid, the two become increasingly greedy, setting off to find large sums of metal, no matter what the risk.

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Chapman and Thomas’ extremely believable performances add great depth to their respective characters. Arbor’s foul language, unmedicated ADHD, and impulsiveness are the key reasons why he is so frequently getting in trouble. Though rather than pity those around Arbor, viewers will find themselves rooting for him instead. Thomas’ Swifty, unlike his best friend, is very quiet and restrained. He allows his father, school bullies, and others to talk down to him, but with the confidence provided by his best friend and newfound independence, he is able to become both a stronger and more respectable figure.

The film shows us a much darker, grittier England, one that we are surely not used to seeing in mainstream British cinema. Barnard paints the screen with washed-out colours and vast cloudy landscapes, perfectly setting the mood for this dark film. The actors used are largely unknown in North America (with the exception of Downton Abbey’s Siobhan Finneran portraying Swifty’s mother), and keep their very heavy natural accents (subtitles are provided, just in case). All of this realism allows THE SELFISH GIANT to remain authentic in nature, as if we are watching real events unfold, which makes what does unfold even tougher to stomach. Fear not though as this gem of a film is well worth it.

4 sheep

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