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In 1999, Britfilm upstart Human Traffic – born of the same creative big bang that begat both Trainspotting and Kevin and Perry Go Large – caught the tail end of rave culture. Two decades on, Beats offers a more considered return to the same scene, composed by cooler, wiser heads in artful silvery greys, with contextualising clips of Tony Blair outlining his vision for a new Britain … after which, it all plainly went a bit Pete Tong. Nostalgic flashbacks are guaranteed for a certain demographic, although there is a curious absence of the era’s biggest beats (were there licensing issues?) and some perversely cramped framing.
For a good while, writer Kieran Hurley (adapting his 2012 play) and director Brian Welsh seem determined to fashion kitchen-sink drama from one of the most outdoorsy of youth phenomena. One limitation is that the film’s energies are almost exclusively focused on a cosily familiar odd-couple bromance.
We join cowed middle-class hero Johnno (Cristian Ortega) as he and his nervy mother Alison (Laura Fraser) are installed in a newbuild home-slash-prison on the outskirts of an unidentified Scottish town by a policeman stepfather (Brian Ferguson) – in part to keep the lad away from his wayward pal Spanner (Lorn Macdonald). The scenes in which these two fall in with an underwritten older crowd remain stubbornly theatrical, stranding us amid abandoned warehouses and damp toilet blocks. For at least half its running time, Beats is all oppression, no euphoria.
We finally get somewhere with the pair’s escape to the rave of their dreams, but Hurley’s thesis that all external tensions were forgotten about on the dancefloor, while historically verifiable, isn’t the smartest line for a movie to take. An already shambling romp slackens around its middle, and it requires a raid by armed police to break up the blissed-out imagery and give Hurley some kind of ending. A handful of transient highs remain – not least Ortega’s doleful resting face, Welsh’s most reliable sight gag – but it’s more amiable than funny or especially persuasive. Compared with Mia Hansen-Løve’s resonant French house drama Eden, or Michael Winterbottom’s kaleidoscopic 24 Hour Party People, these beats sound tinny.
Source: The Guardian
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