Racism, Thatcher-era despair, and the disillusionment of a returning vet are at the heart of screenwriter Martin Stellman's well-intentioned but overreaching directorial debut. Reuben James (Denzel Washington [CRY FREEDOM]) stars as a paratrooper returning after a nine-year hitch in the
British army to a council estate in his native South London, where he finds his have-not neighbors engaged in their own battle against crime, racism, poverty and hopelessness. Reuben also discovers that his service record means less to employers than the color of his skin does. His old friends
have already been forced to find their own ways of coping, turning to crime to support themselves. To complicate his life further, according the 1981 British Nationality Act, Reuben is no longer a citizen because he was born on the Commonwealth island of St. Lucia. After making some quick money on
a drug run with a friend (Bruce Payne), Reuben prepares to return to St. Lucia, but before he can, the estate erupts in a violent riot. Stellman's hyperrealistic picture of the nightmarish council estate and the rebellion that grows there--literally underground--is believable and disturbing. But
Stellman has bitten off more than he can chew. His political message is delivered with a heavy hand, while his narrative is compromised by its dependence on coincidence. His script offers little insight into the origins of the racism and lack of hope that grips his beaten characters. The
performances are generally capable, and Denzel Washington once again demonstrates his powerful screen presence.
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