Sunday, May 17, 2015

Streaming tip: Don't miss the BBC's David Blair/ Jimmy McGovern, BAFTA-nominated COMMON

One of those "little" films (made for British television) that could easily escape your notice, COMMON, happens to star two great-but-lesser-known-than-Helen-Mirren British actresses -- Jodhi May and Susan Lynch -- who are always worth watching. Further, the film also tackles an important social/ political/class issue, that of prosecuting possible criminals under the British legal process known as Joint Enterprise, which, while useful in some situations (one of which the film makes quite clear), can also be used to punish the innocent in ways terrible and hugely unjust.

The writer, noted British scribe Jimmy McGovern (shown at left, of Cracker, Priest, and Go Now), and director David Blair have created a swift, smart, extremely moving tale of a family trapped in a Joint Enterprise situation -- how this comes about and what happens as a result. Fortunately for us viewers, McGovern and Blair are as interested in the characters and their situations as they are in righting a social/legal wrong, and so the movie works on a number of levels.

The situation, into which we are immediately thrust, is this: a young man is behind the wheel of a car waiting for his pals to emerge from a pizza shop. When they do -- rushing and screaming for him to drive away -- it soon becomes clear that they were not there for any pizza.

What has happened was completely unexpected so far as our innocent lad Johnjo (Nico Mirallegro, above) is concerned. The unfairness of what happens to him -- especially set against what happens to some of the other young men involved -- in the course of this riveting and exceedingly well-written, -acted and -directed film will set your teeth on edge. Which of course is the point. Mr. McGovern is noted for edgy teeth-setting, which drives certain segments of British society a bit mad (here are two opposing views of the film from sources right and left).

TrustMovies found the film to be much less preachy about its "theme" and much more about what loss and despair can do to entire families. The two actresses -- May (above, second from left) and Lynch (shown below)-- portray respectively, the mother of the innocent driver and the mother of the victim of the crime, a young man who was not involved in any way except as bystander menaced by the most thuggish and crazy of the bunch (a very scary and believable Andrew Ellis).

Ms Lynch, always an unfussy, direct actress, no matter how "showy" the role might be, provides her scenes of grief with such immediacy and sorrow that they will move you almost beyond belief. And Ms May, slowly coming to realize what has happened and why, proves as genuine and specific as any actress you can name. These women are the moral center of the movie; they understand what to do and why it must be done better and sooner than any of the men.

As the missing father of the family, Daniel Mays, above, brings a fine mix of guilt, shame and honesty to the proceedings, and his character becomes more and more important as the movie moves along.

Concerning "joint enterprise," and as befits so many judicial processes, the film seems less about the thing itself than how that process is applied toward justice. The movie's most telling moment comes in a scene in which it is shown that our boy Johnjo was simply too honest and direct with his confession. Had he gotten a lawyer and bargained, as does another character in the film, things might have turned out quite differently. What a lesson is here proclaimed.

There must be a way in which the concept of joint enterprise can be used to the benefit of real justice, rather than in the all-or-nothing manner we're shown here. It's up to the Brits to figure out how. In the supporting cast, everyone proves top-notch, with a surprise appearance by Michael Gambon (above) as the sitting judge in the case.

Meanwhile, catch this must-see movie -- from BBC LA Productions -- while it's available to stream via Netflix, Amazon, and maybe elsewhere.

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