Starring: Michael Fassbender, Brendan Gleeson, Lyndsey Marshal
Director: Adam Smith
Running Time: 104 mins
Synopsis: Amongst the Traveller community Chad (Fassbender) and his father Colby (Gleeson) are notorious outlaws responsible for a series of large scale thefts. Chad, however, is seeking to remove himself and his family from this unpredictable life, and settle into something stable. His father, and the police stand in his way.
Trespass Against Us tells a very familiar story. One of families, the pressure of legacy, and the desire to rise above the path set for us, centred around that very stubborn of creatures, man! Ostensibly a tale of father and sons, this one surrounding three generations of the Cutler clan. Helping to separate this from the many many iterations of this story is the fact that the Cutler’s are members of the Travelling community. A group very rarely seen on film, and one that comes weighted with pre-conceived notions of who they are and what they do.
Director Adam Smith (last seen directing The Chemical Brothers documentary Don’t Think) dives deep into authenticity here, with the characters not only inspired by the real life notorious Traveller criminals The Johnsons, but dialogue that is rich with believable Traveller speech. In fact the slang terms they use and the frequency of said use can be hard to get to grips with, but through context and the realism of performance it doesn’t take long for your ear to become attuned.
It also helps when those performers happen to be Gleeson and Fassbender. Two of our finest actors and here forging a strong palpable bond as father and son. Fassbender’s Chad seems very much at home in the rough hewn law breaking world he has always known, but the presence of his two young kids and loyal wife (a solid Lyndsey Marshal) inspire him to reach for better. A desire for his children to get a proper education and a better start in life cause him to push against the criminal tendencies of his father. Unable to read or write and frequently unable to even use correct English, Fassbender is quietly heartbreaking here. Setback after setback conspire to keep him firmly in the family business, and each one of these carries a heavy toll on him. It doesn’t help that the local community treats him with extreme caution, especially as it’s no secret of their criminal activities and also, you feel, due to the inherent negativity surrounding their way of life.
Gleeson, on the other hand, is as always a large formidable presence. A manipulative aggressive patriarch who rules his little speck of land with an iron fist. Similar to Chad, he is an uneducated man but unlike his son he has a stubbornness that only his knowledge is the honest truth. His incessant ramblings about the Earth being flat, and his wildly misinformed Bible re-tellings would be funny if it not for how wilfully the flock around him believe it. Gleeson and Fassbender convey their bond well, both clearly love each other but the frustrations Chad feels towards his overbearing dad are understandable, ones which come to the fore in a short sharp burst of violence in the third act that is a release for them both but an unexpected world shaker for another.
That other is the third member in this father/son trifecta, Chad’s young boy Tyson (a sweary but heartfelt Georgie Smith). Looking up to his grandfather with awe and admiration, he pulls ever further from his father as Chad pushes him towards education and a life away from his fellow Travellers. Keen to prove his braggadocio he unfortunately is responsible for an unwelcome police investigation into his father, and the outcome of that is a keen wake up call that this life he so covets is not all his Grandpa makes it out to be. It is with Tyson that the films biggest emotional moment falls and Smith sells it with a sobbing moving strength as he finally makes the step towards becoming a man.
With all this masculine strutting and patriarchal strife it is evident that the women are an afterthought here. Marshal’s Kelly gets the only substantial female role here, even Chad’s daughter gets, almost uncomfortably, no dialogue at all. By Chads side through thick and thin, she is part of the reason he wants out and she goads him repeatedly into getting away from the father she clearly fears. As the consequences of Chads actions lead her children to suffer we see the fire underneath that probably seduced Chad in the first place and despite the anger she feels their love is warmly sketched.
The surrounding cast, all male, offer colour. Rory Kinnear offering snide and smarm as a local copper familiar with the Cutler clan. Sean Harris plays his usual schtick of wide-eyed craziness as a mentally frazzled member of the community, although it is very much a caricatured performance in a film that largely avoids such cartoonishness. Other members of the gang are the usual misfit bundle of dregs and lowlifes, all played with naturalistic charm.
Adam Smith keeps things moving at a decent pace and manages to mount some effective chases that rise above the obviously low budget. One police chase involving a paint covered getaway car (with a small gap in the paint for the driver) uses strong sound design and punchy editing to deliver a few thrills. Lighting is earthy and the camerawork unfussy but capable. It is a solid debut into fictional feature length filmmaking, although with this sort of dialogue authenticity Google Translate wouldn’t be unwanted.
Verdict: Trespass Against Us may offer a lot of familiar material, and not a huge amount of sympathetic characters but there is energy, two strong performances and a rarely seen setting to offer satisfying homegrown drama.