Great soundtrack and great style doesn’t fully disguise a paint-by-numbers screenplay.
D. (for Dennis) a boy living in Jamaica falls into the service of one of two rival gangs after his brother is killed in the crossfire. The gang’s boss, King Fox, hires him for a job in London, delivering cocaine. But D. isn’t one for taking orders easily, and revenge becomes hot on his mind.
The main reason for watching Yardie for most cinema-goers would be that it is the directorial debut for respected actor Idris Elba. Forty-six year old Elba grew up in London, and even worked as a DJ “Big Driis the Londoner” for a short time, so one could easily see his personal connection with the film. With half the story set in London in the late 70s and early 80s, the film is rife with smokey atmosphere, thumping bass music, and basement club scenes. A lot of love has been poured into the atmosphere and the details of the movie. This, and the effective performances from the leads, shows that Elba has the skills behind the camera as well as in front.
The story follows Dennis (played by Aml Ameen) otherwise known as D., as he grows up in Jamaica with his older brother Jerry. Seeing the tragedy caused by street gang warfare, Jerry attempts to end the conflict… only to give his life in the process. D. then follows one of the gangs’ leaders, King Fox, and becomes an unbalanced but trusted member of the gang. But D. has other motivations; he knows his brother’s killer, and seeks revenge over a decade. Fox has D. travel to London, mostly to get the “Mad Dog” away from the more sensitive deals, only for D. to find trouble there too. Including his partner, Yvonne (Stantol Jackson) and her daughter.
The main issue with Yardie is that you see the plot developments coming from a mile off, thanks to some pretty huge conveniences. D. is asked to go to London, because Fox wants him out of the way, and earlier we know Yvonne is living in London, with their daughter. Uh oh. Fox’s London buyer is Rico (Stephen Graham) and D. immediately takes some sort of offence to him and denies the deal. Uh oh. The pieces all fall into place exactly as one would expect after that. The plot is only spurred on from unusual motivations from the characters…
There’s also some of D.’s story missing, or at least it feels like it. King Fox hires the young boy after the tragedy in Jamaica, but several years elapse and now D. is supposedly Fox’s best solider. Not that we see any of this development, all we see is D. being wildly unreasonable and selfish, countermanding all of Fox’s decisions. The film is quite stylish already, some sort of montage to fill this time period wouldn’t have felt unnecessary.
There’s also Stephen Graham’s accent… It is hard to say what Rico’s backstory was meant to be, but he flip-flops between a thick Londoner accent and a Jamaican accent throughout scenes. Did he live in Jamaica for a long time? Is it from exposure to the immigrants he trades with? If it changed depending on how he spoke, or who he was speaking to, fair enough… but it just changes randomly!
There was some laughter in the audience.
Despite this strange decision, Elba’s ability to direct actors in emotional scenes is clearly very strong. While the story perhaps runs too quickly for anything to gain traction, there are some elements that are compelling. The chemistry between Dennis and Yvonne was palpable, and D’s self-destruction and the ghost of his brother on his shoulder was intriguing. Elba’s history for the music scene at the time clearly gave this storyline much more weight than the drug smuggling story. As already mentioned, the music and sound of this movie is excellent.
It is just unfortunate that the motivations of the characters felt so forced. There was plenty of drama between one man’s revenge and the path of redemption through music, you didn’t need a crazy Londoner/Jamaica drug lord, or “twists” and “turns” jumbling it up.
If you watch this film for Elba’s direction, then you will come away from it intrigued to see more, if you came to see a refreshing take on crime drama… you might be disappointed.