It takes a special kind of person to wake up one morning and decide to write a screenplay about a family of Travellers (people who live in trailers and caravans on unauthorised sites around the UK) who are involved in criminal activities, but that’s what Alastair Siddons has done with TRESPASS AGAINST US. While the concept is certainly original, the result here doesn’t make for very satisfying entertainment.
Colby Cutler (Brendan Gleeson, who will be seen at the end of the year in PADDINGTON 2 – yes, there will be a sequel) is the hard-boiled head of a motley crew of Travellers who have set up camp somewhere in south-central England. The group includes his son, Chad (Michael Fassbender, STEVE JOBS; SLOW WEST), daughter-in-law Kelly (Lyndsey Marshal), their two children, Tyson and Mini, and an assortment of other single men and young families who may or may not be related to the Cutlers. While real Travellers are often involved in legitimate pursuits to earn a living, the Cutler clan doesn’t seem to be doing much to bring home the bacon other than committing petty crimes, which includes robbing gas stations and mini-marts. For some reason, their nemesis in the constabulary, P.C. Lovage (Rory Kinnear, MAN UP), isn’t able to get these guys off the streets even after Chad drives a stolen car at breakneck speed through the city’s streets and adjacent farms, willfully destroying both public and private property. As exciting, though, as it is for Chad to continually avoid doing jail time, he’s starting to think of his and his family’s future. Six-year-old Tyson loves the lifestyle but Chad doesn’t want his son to grow up as he did – being illiterate and at the mercy of his crime boss dad. On the quiet, he finds a place in town where he, Kelly and the kids can move to and start to live a traditional life but he now has to work up the nerve to tell Colby. The old man, meanwhile, has a big robbery planned for Chad and the gang.
While TRESPASS AGAINST US could have been an interesting look at family ties in a sub-culture that is foreign to most people, first-time feature director Adam Smith spends far too much time on high octane car chases through the pastoral countryside and not enough time on character motivation. At one point, P.C. Lovage mentions Kelly’s parents, giving us an indication that they never forgave her for running off to be with Chad, and we see her passionately standing by her man when the police think they finally have Chad in their sights, yet at the same time we know that she has been hedging her bets by squirreling away the money she gets from Chad after every robbery. Chad, too, is a bit of an enigma. One moment he is a reckless father, putting his son on his lap and letting the boy steer the car while he puts his foot down hard on the gas pedal, or telling both kids to skip school because it’s Tyson’s birthday. Yet another moment he’s out trying to buy an adorable pedigreed puppy to give to the boy. Because we’re not given a complete picture of what drives these characters, it’s hard to build up any sympathy for them particularly when things come to a head. To make matters worse, the film’s sentimental conclusion is completely out of place.
While many of Fassbinder’s contemporaries are busy hitching their wagons to big budget, superhero/manga franchises, the actor still finds the time to take on indie projects like this one. As disappointing as this film is, it probably won’t hurt his marketability. On the contrary, it will just endear him more to his fan base.
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