Tim P. Whitby Getty Images for A Hundred Stree
Idris Elba stars in the drama “100 Streets.” (Samuel Goldwyn Films)
The mark of a brilliant actor is that he or she can give a compelling performance even in a film that doesn’t shine.
That’s the case with Idris Elba, as he nearly saves this light, interwoven contemporary London drama from mediocrity. The concept for the film is simple: Three vignettes focus on three lives fraying at the edges.
Max (Elba) is a wealthy, over-the-hill rugby star. He’s living the glamorous celebrity life: fast women, drugs and drink. His bad habits have cost him his marriage to Emily (Gemma Arterton, “Clash of the Titans”), an actress/community theater director. Max’s unpredictable behavior means he is limited to supervised visitations with his two young kids. Emily, in the meantime, is being pursued by an old friend, an over-sensitive transfixed shutterbug named Jake (Tom Cullen). He is far more into her than she is to him.
In the second segment, Kingsley (Franz Drameh, “Attack the Block”) is a wayward adolescent from the poor side of town. He lives with his single mom and younger sister in a tenement apartment. The streets have tempted him, and he has aligned himself with a violent, drug-dealing gang. His criminal life has gotten him into trouble. A subsequent stint doing community service at a cemetery, as punishment, introduces him to an elder actor named Terence (Ken Stott, “The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies”). The two bond.
Then there’s George (Charlie Creed-Miles, “The Fifth Element”), a working class taxi driver. He and his wife Kathy (Kierston Wareing) are unable to have children. They are in the process of adopting. Proving that they are worthy parents is becoming a bit more difficult then they’d imagined. George has a past he is not proud of and snoopy adoption agency representatives are skeptical about his chances of ever getting a kid.
Once the divergent characters are set and their storylines are established, screenwriter Leon Butler takes the whole shebang on a journey of self-discovery that is mildly engaging, but never astonishing. As the tales collide and the characters influence each other’s lives, what’s on view seems contrived and not organically compelling. This is the kind of drivel you can screen on Lifetime TV. It never rises to the level of the drama you’d view on Netflix, HBO, Amazon, FX or even NBC’s “Law & Order.”
Part of the problem is the shallow direction by Jim O’Hanlon, which fails to add any true grit to the script, enhance performances or use the production elements to their best advantage. Directors like Sidney Lumet (“Q&A”), John Cassavetes (“A Woman Under the Influence”), Ken Loach (“I, Daniel Blake”) and Kenneth Lonergan (“Manchester by the Sea”) find inventive ways to turn ordinary life into monumental struggles and suffering. O’Hanlon cannot.
The aforementioned directors also have a knack for pulling the finest performances from their cast. They staged confrontational scenes in a way that made them feel as intense as a fight between Satan and God. They kept the production elements strikingly realistic. O’Hanlon, who has an extensive background in British TV, does not have their mojo.
The musical score by Paul Saunderson neither helps nor hinders. Philipp Blaubach’s cinematography fails to evoke the usual magic of London streets. The costume design (Miss Molly), set decoration (Lee Gordon) and production design (Ricky Eyres) don’t make an indelible impression. If anything, they give the footage too glossy a feel, which makes it hard to imagine living inside the characters existence.
Without the proper guidance it feels like the cast is putting in a days work on a set without leaving all their emotions on the stage. All are passable; none are great within the confines of the production. The one person, who seems like he is bigger and better than what you’re viewing, is Elba, and his efforts are thwarted by a shallow script. It feels like he is giving a pivotal performance that belongs in another movie.
Even with the lame production, tepid writing and uninventive direction, Idris Elba makes you wonder why he isn’t the next James Bond. He’s got a British accent that is fun to hear. He is supremely macho in a very suave and debonair way. If you caught him tooling around London in an Aston Martin, chasing villains while a voluptuous woman rode in the passenger seat, you would think he was in his element. “100 Streets” is not his cup of tea.
Right actor. Wrong film. Dull script. Elba deserves better.
Dwight Brown is a film critic and travel writer.