DVD Review: Kidulthood (2006)

Now Available on DVD


"Yes, my guard stood hard when abstract threats
Too noble to neglect
Deceived me into thinking
I had something to protect
Good and bad, I define these terms
Quite clear, no doubt, somehow.
Ah, but I was so much older then,
I'm younger than that now."
-- Bob Dylan
"My Back Pages"

"Wouldn't it be nice if we were older
Then we wouldn't have to wait so long
And wouldn't it be nice to live together
In the kind of world where we belong."
-- The Beach Boys
"Wouldn't It Be Nice"

"Poor young grandson, there's nothing I can say
You'll have to learn, just like me
And that's the hardest way
Ooh la la, ooh la la, yea yea

"I wish that I knew what I know now
When I was younger
I wish that I knew what I know now
When I was stronger."
-- Faces
"Ooh La La"

"It's the hard knock life for us
It's the hard knock life for us
'Stead of treated, we get tricked
'Stead of kisses, we get kicked
It's the hard knock life."
-- Jay Z
"Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem)"

"Everybody knows
It sucks to grow up
And everybody does
It's so weird to be back here.
Let me tell you what
The years go on and
We're still fighting it, we're still fighting it
You'll try and try and one day you'll fly
Away from me."
-- Ben Folds
"Still Fighting It"

Music has always been the universal refuge for teenagers. By locking their bedroom doors to hide away in the "world where [they] can go and tell [their] secrets to," as Brian Wilson memorably sang many decades ago, stereos are cranked and musicians always managed to articulate just what exactly was going through their minds at any given moment.

Whether it was their latest crush to their latest heartbreak or-- more often than not-- an outlet for all their daily frustrations as lives became increasingly fast-paced over the years, music has never failed to tap right into the psyche of a teenager and provide their ultimate and incredibly personal soundtrack. From wistful wishes to age overnight and become free to longing for the day when one can enjoy their youth complete with the knowledge of age to lamenting in the terror they face at school or just simply acknowledging how much "it sucks to grow up," the melodies and genres have changed but the sentiment basically stays the same. Namely, growing up-- much more than breaking up-- is incredibly hard to do and even harder in the twenty-first century.

Blending music together with imagery and obviously drawing inspiration from classic works like Nicholas Ray's still timely Rebel Without a Cause, John Singleton's Boyz in the Hood, Larry Clark's Kids, and Catherine Hardwicke's Thirteen-- young actor turned screenwriter Noel Clarke and acclaimed short filmmaker Menhaj Huda fix their attention on the incredibly gritty dark side of urban London with their controversial and award winning film Kidulthood (which was followed up with a sequel Adulthood).

Daring, incisive, and incendiary-- if you can make it past the brutal opening five minutes which makes one nearly mistake the film's schoolyard and fifteen year old characters for a prison yard of hardened criminals three times their age, you'll find yourself mostly mesmerized by a side of London that hasn't been captured on film so far.

As the articulate Clarke notes on the DVD Making-of-Featurette (which is divided into seven parts totaling roughly thirty minutes), he drew from his own background and the events he observed of adolescents in his neighborhood for this culturally relevant and breakneck paced chaotic tragedy set over the course of a day and a half. Wanting to heighten the tensions of teens who always feel as though their timeline is exaggerated to emergency levels of urgency and the "all or nothing" alternating sense of entitlement, helplessness, and energy they put into their fast, hazardous lifestyles by keeping things moving fairly quickly-- the brevity of the timespan also aids in the viewing experience as it's an incredibly trying film that tests our limits as soon as it starts.

Spliced together stylishly with excellent urban cinematography by Trainspotting lensman Brian Tufano and set to hip-hop anthems popular in the West London street culture of its period, the film begins with a horrifying bout of bullying by a girl gang who mercilessly beats the tall, beautiful Katie whom they nickname "Big Bird." Warning her not to say a word for fear of her life, she leaves school to oblivious and self-involved parents, retreats to a loud stereo in her room where she coolly hangs herself to avoid facing the same fate the next day.

While some of the kids cherish the next day off as though it were a snow day and begin making plans to party, others face crises of their own as our main character Trife (Ami Ameen) learns that his estranged girlfriend Alisa (Red Madrell) is pregnant and plans are set in motion by Katie's brother and others to get even with some of her tormentors including the slightly older and unspeakably ruthless Sam (Clarke). Much like Spike Lee's tough-minded message picture Do the Right Thing, Clarke sprinkles some much-needed humor throughout but it's an extremely grim work that pulls you in with its Requiem for a Dream styled first-person P.O.V. shots (in one vicious scene near the end as Trife is bullied into joining his criminal uncle in brutal vengeance) and music video styled edits as it joins together the plots of both the boys and the girls by the thread of Trife and Alisa's relationship.

Using their bodies as currency, numbing themselves with drugs, dodging in and out of schemes from trying to pick up a lovely older woman to ultimately stealing her purse, and using sexuality and blackmail to get what they want, the plight of the film's characters doesn't really get you truly invested until about midway through. This is largely because as they fan apart away from their groups, they start getting a bit less self-involved and venture out into the harsh realities and conflicts of the daylight and interpersonal relationships where they find the don't have to follow school yard rules and can dart in and out of apartments, houses, stores, local transportation and more.

While the blending together of numerous cultures and racial tensions are briefly touched on throughout as in one scene where a young black man can't get a cab and ultimately, several cabs later and defying all logic or sense of justice, he confirms their prejudice by "getting even" and bolting without payment, Clarke and Huda's thesis is often overshadowed by its shock value.

The film boasts uniformly remarkable and powerful performances by its young cast, including a noteworthy turn by Ray Winstone's daughter Jaime Winstone who plays Alisa's skanky, manipulative party-girl friend Rebbecca (and in a killer line jokes that she doesn't want to look like a tramp, after prostituting herself out numerous times for drugs and money to buy dresses).

Despite a chilling if ultimately predictable finale-- Kidulthood may not stand the test of time like some of the others in its "genre" (especially considering Rebel and also City of God) but it'll definitely alarm anyone who manages to sit through it. Hopefully it will instigate a wake-up call to its target demographic as well as any parents who check it out. For unfortunately, while we've come a long, long way from Brian Wilson longing to seek quiet solace in his room; now we have to worry about those who bully others to death.

Needless to say, Kidulthood taps right into the same angst, concerns, and hellish years in the life of a teenager set on growing up far too quickly. Painful, searing, and bolstered by its talented stars-- the film which scared away basically every studio, producer and distributor who came into contact with it until it collapsed due to its "radioactive" nature in presenting a very angry portrait of British youth is now available on DVD from Image Entertainment.