If there’s one prime thing I’ve noticed about the way we produce films, it’s that we’ve rendered ourselves unable to make films of certain things.
Now, let me explain that.
Some of my favourite books of all time are the CHERUB series (which I already talked about this year in my Kingsman review), where a bunch of orphaned teenagers are MI5 agents, infiltrating drug rings, environmental terrorist groups, cults, and even the Russian mafia. The reason? No one suspects children are spying on them. It’s not just a series set in action, but also responsibility. When they turn 18, they can decide whether to go on to become a spy as an adult, or go to university. They’re thrilling, they’re mature, but they are sadly unfilmable because of the amount of sex, drugs, and violence in them.
A similar problem was one of the first things that popped out at me about Andy Mulligan’s fantastic young adult novel Trash when I read it mid last year. A good old fashioned adventure novel in a sea of dystopian romances (which aren’t necessarily a bad trend, it’s just good to see some differentiation) about three boys from the favelas in a South American city who find a wallet in a trash heap and chase the story behind it, it possessed a sense of fantastical adventure, but also a lot of darkness. It’s strongly about police brutality and corruption, and finding humanity within such a landscape, where danger and death is at every turn, and nightmarish reality isn’t just reserved for adults.
It’s dark, pretty political and brutal. Children get dangled out of windows while being interrogated by police, and can pretty much trust no one around them. They die for doing the right thing, for being just and fighting against a corrupt system. It’s stuff not usually tackled in books for young adults, and was made for the screen. But herein lies your problem. Long story short, it was going to be nary impossible to make an authentic film of the book that would have been able to be seen by its audience of 13 and 14-year-olds, because of how gritty and violent the book is. So, what do you do? Water it down, losing what made the book so great; or make an honest adaptation?
Luckily, Stephen Daldry, against all odds and trends of making films from young adult books, went with the second option. He chose to preserve the violence and grit of the novel to create a film that possesses the same darkness and intensity, but also exhilarating hope and triumph.
It’s less a family-friendly outing than crime and police brutality thriller (which explains its muted response), gritter than most adults films these days, as a result. And at that, a very good one. While, yes, there are moments of joy, they’re reserved until the very end, a welcome fairytale reprieve. Until then, it’s less a post card view of Rio de Janeiro than venturing beyond it, into the darkest parts of the city, of hopelessness and resignation to grim situations from the cursory American adults (a priest played by Martin Sheen and an idealistic college graduate played by Rooney Mara).
But from the youth, there’s hope. Always hope. The three teenage leads (Rickson Tevez, Gabriel Weinstein, Eduardo Luis), non-professionals when filming took place, are absolutely spellbinding to watch, oozing charisma and a real rapport. They’re magnetic as the freewheeling camera follows them on breathless chases through train stations and slums. It all possesses an undeniable kinetic energy and vibrance that keeps the proceedings rolling organically for the duration, unforced, raw, and so alive. More, please.