“Trespass Against Us”: Tonally Imbalanced But Darkly Appealing

Trespass Against Us is a darkly appealing, if tonally imbalanced, crime-family drama set against the backdrop of a travelling community in Gloucestershire from first time feature film director Adam Smith. It stars Michael Fassbender and Brendan Gleeson.

There’s a cloying sense of murky dread permeating director Adam Smith’s feature film debut Trespass Against Us. It’s a darkly appealing asset of this affecting, if tonally imbalanced, crime-family drama set against the backdrop of a travelling community in Gloucestershire.

Smith’s unique take on this reclusive mini society enjoys shades of David Michôd’s Oz-thriller Animal Kingdom in its depiction of a family crime dynasty but boasts telling British sensibilities from its West Country colloquialisms, battered caravans pitched up with flower pots under plastic windows, and green rolling hills offering a picturesque stage.

Smith owes a debt to the talents of both Michael Fassbender and Brendan Gleeson who offer gravitas in name as well as performance. Gleeson is particularly compelling as Colby Cutler, the community’s patriarch and self-appointed spiritual leader. There’s a softness to his voice as well as a jovial carefree attitude that masks a more volatile side, hiding a tendency for religious fundamentalism and cult-like tyranny.

Fassbender is career criminal Chad, an uneducated father whose survival skills amount to stealing, evading the police and bootstrap machismo. He wants out of this world but he’s pulled back in by Colby and his own indeterminate sense of worth. This is all he’s ever known. It gives his life purpose while simultaneously leading it to oblivion.

Smith takes his cues from James WatkinsEden Lake – another film starring Fassbender before his fame really took off – in how a summertime, sun-kissed countryside idyll can be drowned by violence and anarchy. But by no means is Trespass Against Us as bloody or defined by convention. Indeed, there’s also shades of Shane Meadows’ domestic mundanity undercut by conflict and tragedy. It’s largely a mood piece, Chad’s will-he-won’t-he escape plight continuing to enthral even as he accepts another “job”, better known to laypersons as a robbery.

Underlining this is his relationship with wife Kelly (Lyndsey Marshal) who urges him to leave the Cutler clan despite it meaning she cuts the hand that feeds her. Behind Chad’s back she hides a secret stash of money earned from his late-night criminal activity. But they both have a more important reason to get out. Their kids are growing up in this lifestyle, one in which Colby openly discourages them from going to school and, in one scene, uses Chad’s young son as bait to get him to do a home invasion.

If Smith gets anything wrong, it’s the shifts in tone that mean the whole isn’t quite the sum of its parts. Some of the film’s real highlights are the scenes featuring life on the travellers’ site and the action sequences during the Cutlers’ criminal excursions. The director certainly deserves credit for his chaotic car chases that suggest a bigger budget than was probably available.

Equally, the sequences at their homestead, particularly those involving Sean Harris’ feral, mentally unstable Gordon Bennett, enjoy an unpredictability without the traditional moral boundaries we assume exist. But this is at odds with Smith’s depiction of the police, which has none of the Cutler clan’s authenticity, the cops appearing bumbling and caricatured. Similarly, while Smith avoids sentimentalising his ending, he appears to find a sense of farce that is alien to what has come before. Thankfully, the finale is not without its own successes. Lighter in tone, it’s a conclusion that unsubtly cuts through the murky dread we’ve endured previously.

trespass against us, film review, four stars

Written by Dan Stephens

Directed by: Adam Smith
Written by: Alastair Siddons
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Brendan Gleeson, Lyndsey Marshal, Killian Scott

Released: 2016 / Genre: Drama
Country: UK / IMDB
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Top 10 Films reviewed Trespass Against Us on DVD courtesy of Lionsgate UK. The film was released on DVD/Blu-ray on July 3, 2017 and on Digital Download June 26, 2017.

Dan Stephens
About the Author
Dan Stephens is the founder and editor of Top 10 Films. He's usually pondering his next list, often inspired by his adoration for 1980s Hollywood, a time-travelling DeLorean and an adventurous archaeologist going by the name Indiana.

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