Offender is just so relentlessly and bloodily obsessed with shoving down our throats how horrendous everything is that it’s hard to take a breath without being smothered in the bleak mire of fights and “fuck”s. Set against the painfully relevant backdrop of the London riots, director Ron Scalpello and screenwriter Paul Van Carter are trying desperately hard to explore an undercurrent of angry youths hitting back at society. However, in its tackling of the riots, Offender only gives airtime to obnoxious hooligans who couldn’t care less about tuition fees, government cuts, or the destruction of the welfare state; skinheads who suck their teeth and loot shit. Smashed windows, cars on fire, kids drinking beer in shopping trolleys, all filmed on an iPhone? OH HI, BROKEN BRITAIN. Offender could have been a sympathetic look at the political situation responsible for the ‘us vs. them’ mentality that posits the police as establishment enemies; instead it is a confused, inexcusably scripted mixture of social commentary and revenge drama.
Whilst the trailer looks misleadingly good, I can guarantee you’ll get sick of the repetitive clips of thugs swaggering down hallways in slow-motion to a dubstep underlay. The basic premise of Offender is fine, if a bit obvious. Told through flashbacks, young Tommy Nix (Cole) is inside a young offender institution wreaking revenge on the thugs that beat up his pregnant girlfriend (Nixon). Said girlfriend worked as the probation officer for a gang of three that decided to loot a jewellery store in the choas of the London riots. However, when stopped by the owner, teeth-sucking skinhead Jake (rapper and patriot English Frank) shot him. Tommy’s girlfriend worked out that Jake was responsible for the murder so to keep her quiet Jake and his team had her brutally beaten, as a consequence of which, she miscarried Tommy’s child and left him.
In prison, Tommy proceeds to track down the guilty parties in between cruel abuse at the hands of senior prison officer ‘The Guv’ (Dooley). Alongside this cheerful tale, there is a baffling subplot involving the Muslim inmates of the young offender institution. As part of Tommy’s initiation into the borstal, which seems to involve him being roughly shoved in the lunch queue, cellmate Harry explains that converting to Islam gets you better food because of all that Halal stuff. Then one of the inmates responsible for the attack on ‘his girl’ (as these young men insist on possessively referring to their partners) swiftly converts by mumbling three sentences in Arabic and finding inner peace. The whole portrayal is all a bit dodgy and a further example of Scalpello and Van Carter forcing in as many checkboxes for Controversial Modern Culture as they can.
Joe Cole’s Tommy Nix is a sensitive and compelling portrayal, it’s just such a shame that you have to scrabble through so much excrement to get to this gem. Kimberley Nixon is disappointingly lacklustre at points as Nix’s loving girlfriend, but she is having to suffer through such abysmally stilted dialogue as the supposed joke: “Is it a boy or a girl?”, “Yeah, it’s one of them.” Despite such clangers, the relationship portrayed by Cole and Nixon is genuinely touching and provides the only brief glimmer of light in this utter debasement of humanity.
Shaun Dooley as sadistic Guv’nor Nash is gifted with a horrendous monologue where he whinges about how bad his clothes are, how he’s “renting a fucking bedsit”, and how he has to catch the bus every day; a catalogue of banality that culminates in the conclusion that bloody rioters are screwing over “hard grafters” like him. These are the bloody rioters that he buys crack off. It really does beggar belief how easy it is to get weapons, drugs, and quality coffee beans into this high-security youth prison! When Nash’s cruelty is finally uncovered, some clumsy dig is made about general corruption in the prison system and how his abuse will remain an internal matter because of bad PR. For some reason, this climax is casually skimmed over in favour of an extended sequence of Nix in solitary confinement filmed with a yellowish-green blur over the camera lens that is at best distracting and at worst ridiculous.
Whilst the acting may never set the world alight, it’s really not bad. The script, however, is. From the opening “‘e did two coppas!” your ears are bombarded with “innit”s, “bruv”s, “cuz”s, and “baby momma”s, policemen and yoofs saying “fuck” to each other, and clunky references to Confused.com and The X Factor. If this is supposed to indicate that Scalpello and Van Carter have their fingers on the pulse of the current zeitgeist then I would like to shoot the zeitgeist in the head.
Offender attempts the plunge into youth culture, but merely paddles around in the cliche pool; lots of getting close to people and hissing “pussy”, smoking, fighting, and seemingly endless rapping. Mic Righteous looks to have chosen prison over doing another record with Cher Lloyd. Offender‘s revenge story simplifies and glorifies violence, poking hesitantly at discussions about prison reform, disaffected youth, and the nature of crime to beget crime, but in trying so pathetically hard to be grim, gritty, and relevant, it only succeeds in being banal, clunky, and depressing.