Director: Idris Elba
Cast: Aml Ameen, Shantol Jackson, Sheldon Shepherd, Stephen Graham, Calvin Demba
Plot: When D’s brother gets killed in the crossfire of a Jamaican street war, D (Ameen) ends up working for the head of one of the gangs, while secretly hunting his brother’s killer.
The problem with the gangster genre is that your main objective is handling the morality of the piece. If your hero isn’t half-dripped in bad decisions and the potential of evil, then your film lacks bite. However, if he is too villainous, then your film lacks direction, a story where there is no hero or redemption for anyone. Yardie’s biggest problem is that the characters, especially Aml Ameen’s D, is that sometimes they are particularly difficult to root for.
As the film opens, we get the right flavour for a good anti-hero. A young D is hosting a music night with his older brother, hoping to bring together two warring gangs with music. Predictably, someone attempts a hit, which leads to D’s brother getting shot and killed. Without this moral figure, D ends up being wrapped up in one of the major crime gangs. This is standard of the genre, as there is a sense D abandons his brother’s peaceful mindset out of a sense of loss. It helps that the crime gang he joins is attempting to go legal, only to slowly slip back into their drug-running origins, suggesting that D is in too deep without really knowing it. Things get a little riskier when he moves to London to sell drugs to Stephen Graham’s loose cannon dealer, Rico. It becomes very hard to overlook the fact that most of the problems in Yardie come from D’s questionable decisions and lack of moral values. The writers appear to be hoping that the fact D is surrounded by worse characters, his bad streak will get balanced out in the wash. However, as D impulsively betrays Rico for apparently bad manners (drug dealers should always say please, don’t you know?), he starts a string of bad decisions that bring trouble directly to his doorstep – also bringing his girlfriend and child into the firing line. Things hardly look up when D starts becoming obsessed with hunting his brother’s killer, a quest which almost completely puts him into the role of the bad guy. Aml Ameen keeps D on the role of hero by the skin of his teeth by bleeding charisma into every scene. It’s a solid performance that makes Yardie a lot more compelling that it could have been. The other characters are also trapped in this murky grey area which gives Yardie this sense of having mixed messages. The head of the gang D is roped into helping is King Fox, a man introduced by indirectly murdering a small girl. However, in the space of a few scenes, the man has become a surrogate parent figure to D, leaving the audience wondering who the villain is meant to be. There is a neat twist with the killer D is tracking becoming a loving father and innocent bystander by the time D catches up to him, making D’s quest for revenge no longer about justice. However, the script backs out of this moment in the finale scene, in a few character beats that only just makes sense. And the film looks like it is planning on promoting peace in its ending, only to back out and have a shoot-up for the closing moments. As gripping as Yardie can be, and in fairness, moments do grip, ultimately it never quite feels sure on what movie it is trying to be.
Of course, most eyes will be on the director rather than the project. Beloved Idris Elba takes up directing for the first time and Yardie is a test to see if he is willing to stay behind the camera. There is promise in Elba’s career. Some of the shots are glorious, especially with Elba’s choice to have the ghost of his dead brother, following the hero around. As he hovers in the corner of the camera, it provides some lovely and thoughtful pieces of cinematography. The other great thing with Idris Elba’s material is that he allows his passion for music to bleed into his work. Yardie finds pride in the music of Jamaican culture and music’s ability to bring peace to dark situations. When Yardie is at its most tiring, Elba usually has a track to inject life back into it. Despite Yardie’s flaws, we are still hanging on for news of Idris Elba’s next project.
Final Verdict: The story is unbalanced, but Elba is a keen director able to keep Yardie on course just enough.