The Rise is quite novel: it’s a British Gangster film that’s actually very good. Talented writer-director Rowan Athale even avoids the self-conscious styling of genre “head boy” Guy Richie. Top 10 Films editor Dan Stephens explains why it’s a must-see…
Bloodied and bruised, Harvey Miller (Luke Treadaway) sits in a police interrogation room. He’s being grilled by DI West (the always dependable Timothy Spall) over the little matter of a pub heist. The venue in question is a safe house used by bad boy Steven Roper (Neil Maskell) to secure the cash flow from his illegal drugs trade. It transpires, as we witness through flashback as Harvey recalls the events of the past six weeks, that Roper was responsible for his wrongful imprisonment. On release, Harvey, with his trio of best mates, is eager to gain revenge for his wasted year locked away. His plan, he reveals, is to steal over £50,000 from the pub safe and take the straight road by setting up a legitimate business abroad. The fact he’s now arrested and recovering from the wrong end of a beating suggests the heist was a failure. Or perhaps there’s more to this story.
First-time feature film director Rowan Athale should be applauded for producing a British gangster flick that shirks the sort of Cockney cool and breathlessly paced editing style of the oft-imitated Guy Ritchie. In fact, we don’t have a London accent in sight as the film takes place “up north” in the Yorkshire city of Leeds. Admittedly, Athale’s hugely entertaining heist is not immune to generic staging but its influences are far more transatlantic than typically British. Its regional colloquialism comes from its characters, the definable abruptness of their vowel sounds lamenting the lack of career opportunity. The backdrop a sea of uninspiring suburbia painted by skies the colour of military ships.
You could therefore describe The Rise as a sort of low-grade Ocean’s 11, the comparatively insignificant financial reward a sign of place (a long way from the glittering, glitzy Las Vegas high-rollers) and time (backend of recession). Yet, the satisfaction of the potential prize is no less worthy or fulfilling. Indeed, the tinge of revenge against the aggressive bully underpinning the whole operation provides a winning combination of dramatic tension and hopeful optimism.
Athale’s narration of the story – through Harvey’s interrogation with DI West – is told through flashback. There’s a hint of The Usual Suspects to proceedings – another indication of the film’s American influences – but Athale isn’t about to step on the toes of one cinema’s greatest plot twists. He’s better than that. He has his own dramatic turns up his sleeve. Certainly, Harvey’s retelling of events over the previous six weeks has added resonance, elements of ambiguity that keep the plot at full throttle.
Perhaps the addition of star-crossed lovers (Vanessa Kirby turns up as Harvey’s on-off girlfriend) could have been handled better (or at least differently). There’s a lack of development between the pair, her thinly-constructed role – elevated somewhat by Kirby’s beguiling sensuality – is largely a conduit to push the plot forward and add a little femininity to an otherwise testosterone-fuelled drama. The same can’t be said of Harvey and his gang – Dempsey (Iwan Rheon), Charlie (Gerard Kearns) and Dodd (Matthew Lewis); best known as Neville Longbottom from Harry Potter) – a group of friends whose unyielding friendship has years on its side. Each actor benefits from a well-written role, the individuality of their characters enhanced by performers clearly having a ball with the material (and each other’s company).
The Rise might drift in and out of generic conventionality but this hugely enjoyable British heist is a clear sign its writer-director Athale has bags of talent. He has an ability to coax energetic performances from his cast, thanks in part to a terrific script, while his directorial style favours restraint and character over flashy editing and cinematic indulgence. Indeed, he doesn’t need to over-complicate the drama when the material is this entertaining.