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Films like this are a tough balancing act, especially in giving all the numerous characters on screen enough room to breathe. Large casts with their own storylines have always been popular if not successful, sometimes stretching their numbers to absurd lengths. With100 Streets, fortunately the filmmakers keep it to mostly a few characters, and while it offers an interesting look at London life, it also plays it a little too on the nose and lacks the punch it could and should have had.
The main story follows the failing marriage of Max (Idris Elba) and Emily (Emma Arterton). He’s a former England international rugby all-star and the head of a new charity organization. They have two children but both have cheated on each other, him, chronically, with fans of the sport and she with a man who wants her to be exclusively with him and encourages her to take up her old passion, acting.
That ties her to Terance (Ken Stott), a stage actor who years before had mentored her and welcomes her back into the craft. He walks the streets with his bright red Beats headphones, always in a positive state of mind, and in turn becomes a voice of reason and a guide for Kingsley (Franz Drameh), a young street thug and ex-con trying to make sense of his life. Kingsley’s mother has had enough of his troubles and kicks him out. Lastly, there is George (Charlie Creed-Miles), a former youth hooligan and now taxi driver trying to adopt a child with his wife Kathy (Kierston Wareing). He becomes involved in a car accident with the worse consequences.
Directed by Jim O’Hanlon, 100 Streets is an earnest string of stories that stays true to its premise, circulating about a small corner of London. It populates the cast with a mix of races and does right by avoiding obvious racial antagonism, instead concentrating more on the personal crisis of these people and their relationships. When there is a spot of violence, it is not motivated by culture clashes but rather a sudden meeting at the wrong time and place, albeit to end one story and propel another.
The film has grand ideas and goes about building them up with solid fashion and sound performances but the connections that bind these characters creates drama that feels both overly-simplified and equally over-done, straining the authenticity it works hard to establish. Things fall upon a prescribed line that colors every character in all the exacting colors that define them, giving little nuance to the cast. Max is a loose cannon, on cocaine, unable to handle life out of the spotlight. Emily is a frustrated talent who can’t trust him to find his way. Terance is a sage with timely advice, and Kingsley is on a knife’s edge. And so on.
There are no surprises in 100 Streets. When one thing happens to one character we know exactly how and to whom it will effect. There are no doubts. There are no small gestures. It constantly reaches for melodrama and all comes down to a highly improbable climax before an ending that is honestly, unearned. That’s not to say there isn’t good work by the cast. Elba is effective and Arterton convincing. Drameh is strong too and seems bound to break into something big soon. He’s very good.
Accompanied by a woefully uninspired coffee shop-esque guitar and piano soundtrack, 100 Streets plays more like a TV drama, steadfastly staying superficial, never exploring these characters with any creative depth. While there are some good moments, this is ultimately a shallow experience that promised much more.
Director: Jim O'Hanlon
Writer: Leon Butler
Stars: Idris Elba, Gemma Arterton, Tom Cullen