The directorial debut for screenwriter Hanif Kureishi (SAMMY AND ROSIE GET LAID, MY BEAUTIFUL LAUNDERETTE), LONDON KILLS ME is a visceral, Dickensian tale of outcasts, drugs and upward mobility.
Clint (Justin Chadwick) is just turning twenty and has had enough of his lot as a small-time drug dealer and squatter, constantly scavenging for the next bag of hash to sell or a blanket to keep himself warm. One of a gang employed by his longtime chum and narcotics entrepreneur Muffdiver (Steven
Mackintosh), Clint works alongside Burns (Tony Haygarth), Bike (Naveen Andrews) and Tom Tom (Stevan Rimkus). He sees a way out of his dead-end existence when a restaurant manager, Hemingway (Brad Dourif), offers him a waiting job on the condition that he can find a proper pair of shoes to wear to
work. Clint decides to work one final week as a dealer so that he can raise enough cash to buy some appropriate footwear.
Clint bumps into his old friend Sylvie (Emer McCourt), a fallen beauty fresh from rehab. She's looking for a place to stay and a fix, and both her needs are met by Muffdiver when, implementing his latest plan, he and his gang break into a vacant second-floor apartment. With a good location on
Whitehall Street, sleeping quarters for the staff, and a private bedroom for his new lover, Sylvie, Muffdiver is now able to indulge his business-tycoon fantasies--something about which the crew is less than thrilled.
Clint sells some hash to Headley (Fiona Shaw), a predatory older woman who fancies herself a protector of young bohemians. Then, still desperate for cash, he steals Muffdiver's bankroll and hides it on the roof of the building. Sent into a tailspin, the gang takes a trip to the countryside to get
some fresh air, smoke hash and regroup. They end up at the house of Clint's mother, Lilly (Eleanor David), where her husband, Stone (Alun Armstrong), demonstrates his penchant for bad Elvis impersonations.
Back in London, the gang is forcefully evicted from the flat by the newly returned owners. Muffdiver is forced to leave town until the situation calms down, and Clint can't get to the stolen money. With only one day until his new job begins, he makes a last effort at procuring the needed footwear
by pleading with Headley for a loan. She refuses his request unless sexual favors are built into the deal and he storms out of the apartment, after purloining a pair of boots which belong to someone who's using Headley's shower. Muffdiver and Sylvie try to convince Clint to join them on the lam,
but he resists their entreaties. Clint arrives for work on time and with shoes that, it turns out, belong to Hemingway. Before long, it's obvious that he's a natural.
Kureishi brings both humor and pathos to his portrait of London's underworld, fashioning sympathetic, three-dimensional characters out of figures who are usually viewed as despicable villains. Kureishi's drug-dealers are confused, hopeful and desperate for love--not unlike the rest of humanity.
Kureishi resists the temptation either to moralize about the story's more sober aspects or to let the jokes soften the drama's harder edges, treading a fine line between wit and despair with his trademark wry dialogue. Some occasional credibility-straining moments--as when no one seems to care
that a group of squatters have broken into a posh flat, or when Muffdiver leaves his bankroll virtually sitting out in the open--are minor lapses in an otherwise well conceived plot.
Unusually, the fine cast are actually made to look like real drug users. As Clint, Chadwick is a standout, playing his character not as a vulture, but as a victim of society (and possibly, Kureishi hints, child abuse). If Clint is a grown version of Dickens's Oliver, then Mackintosh's Muffdiver is
the modern-day Fagin. Muff's tough exterior is a means to an end, a thin veneer that is soon wiped away. What remains is a little boy caught between the fantasy of being a business tycoon and the sordid reality of his lifestyle. McCourt plays Sylvie with a delicateness which belies her tough
surroundings. The rest of the gang is well cast, although they don't have much to do other than look stoned.
Kureishi's message is best summed up in the film's ironic epilogue. It's a few months later, and the cleaned-up, sharply dressed Clint has become the archetypal cool waiter. As we see him selling the restaurant's charm and hipness to a couple of tourists though, we realize that he's still a
pusher. We're all selling something, Kureishi seems to be saying, whether it's drugs, food or our souls. How society views us is a result of the package we come in. (Substance abuse, profanity, nudity.)
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- Released: 1991
- Rating: R
- Review: The directorial debut for screenwriter Hanif Kureishi (SAMMY AND ROSIE GET LAID, MY BEAUTIFUL LAUNDERETTE), LONDON KILLS ME is a visceral, Dickensian tale of outcasts, drugs and upward mobility. Clint (Justin Chadwick) is just turning twenty and has had e… (more)