"they are scum." That was Somerset Maugham's famous verdict on the Angry Young Men of '50s Britain (in his review of Kingsley Amis' "Lucky Jim"), and ever since, it's been the refrain of conservatives and traditionalists on every explosion of youth sensibility. In the case of the Welsh film "Twin Town," however, it's true. The characters are scum and the world is their bucket. It's not just that there's no one to care about in "Twin Town," much less someone to like; it's that the movie pisses on the notion of caring about anyone or anything. Set in Swansea, Wales, this black revenge comedy about the chain of events set off when Fatty (Huw Ceredig), a working-class laborer, falls off a roof and his wealthy employer, Bryn (Ronnie Williams), refuses to pay compensation, is one of those artifacts of alleged hipness that tries to pass off cruelty as toughness of mind, and easy cynicism as an expression of nihilistic discontent. At least it's egalitarian, being about cretins, by cretins and for cretins.
It's easy to see that what director Kevin Allen (who wrote the film with Paul Durden) was trying for here was a Welsh version of "Trainspotting." I'd like to be charitable enough to think that the presence of that movie's producer and director (Andrew MacDonald and Danny Boyle) as this film's executive producers is the mark of men using their newfound influence to give other young filmmakers a chance. But what makes this repugnant little picture ultimately dispiriting is the way it cannibalizes and calcifies the liberating spirit of "Trainspotting" into something puny and mingy. Less than a year after "Trainspotting" appeared, a breakthrough style has been reduced to formula.
For a movie about people destroying their lives, "Trainspotting" was bursting with life. That was what made it so exhilarating and, to some, so upsetting. But the movie plainly loved life, had a respect for it. I don't mean to make that sound like a sermon or an attempt to reduce it to a cautionary tale. "Trainspotting," like any work of art, was out to understand rather than judge. The movie plainly understood that pleasure often has nothing to do with morality, but it also identified the cruelties its characters committed on others, or on themselves, and allowed those characters their pain.
In "Twin Town," Allen directs as if he's never had an impulse of empathy or decency in his life (or, if he has, decided they were a waste of time). "Twin Town" plays like a compendium of all the gratuitously nasty episodes from Irvine Welsh's novel that Danny Boyle and his screenwriter John Hodge had the brains to cut out of "Trainspotting." Allen's only coherent attitude is to sneer at whoever happens to be in front of the camera. So not only does the movie depict Bryn as a rich, unconcerned shit taking advantage of the working classes, it shows the working classes, Fatty's family among them, as morons and whores and two-bit crooks. When innocent characters are brutalized, Allen can't resist shooting their misery so that the audience will get off on the visceral charge of it.
In one scene, a woman causes the death of her husband by opening a garage door, and the movie simply goes on without any consideration of her feelings. Allen gets a sickening jolt out of the way Fatty's doper car-thief sons, "the twins" (Llyr Evans and Rhys Ifans), decapitate Bryn's wife's poodle, and then he plays the woman's distress for laughs when she buries her pet. (Is there any cheaper way for a filmmaker to get a response than by resorting to showing us mistreated or killed animals? There are exceptions, like the horse's head scene in "The Godfather" or the rabbit-hunting sequence in "The Rules of the Game," but this is purely gratuitous.) Allen doesn't understand that some dead dogs deserve a decent burial. His movie is a dead dog of another kind, a nasty little bastard that should be covered with dirt before the stench knocks you over.
PHOTO BY PAUL CHEDLOW | COURTESY OF GRAMERCY PICTURES | ALL RIGHTS RESERVED