Film Review: 100 Streets

An appealing ensemble makes the most of this rote melodrama charting the occasionally intersecting lives of several South Londoners.
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In director Jim O’Hanlon’s high-pitched, undercooked drama 100 Streets, myriad stories intersect, run parallel or hit dead ends, all within one square mile of South London’s racially and economically diverse Battersea district. The film narrows its scope from the proverbial eight million stories to a chosen few, starting with that of Kingsley (Franz Drameh), a young street-corner weed dealer who recites his self-penned soliloquies into the night air, dreaming of a future beyond his life of crime.

Kingsley spends most of his time with his rowdy mates dealing and stealing on the same blocks that are home to rich and famous Max Moore (Idris Elba). A former captain of the English rugby team, dapper Max is a national hero to virtually everyone, except his wife, Emily (Gemma Arterton), who’s kicked him out of their posh townhouse for, among other offenses, sleeping with their kids’ nanny. Once a promising actress, Emily, now contemplating life as a single breadwinner, seeks advice on her career from an old theatre mentor, Terence (Ken Stott), and, seeking warmer comforts, she falls into bed with an ex-lover, photographer Jake (Tom Cullen).

Residing also in Battersea, worlds apart from Max and Emily and their tabloid-ready turmoil, gentle cabbie George (Charlie Creed-Miles) and his wife Kathy (Kierston Wareing) dream of becoming adoptive parents. The film smartly introduces, though doesn’t really develop, its various concepts of family—the ones we choose or that choose us, the family we create or can’t help destroying. Complicating family matters for George and Kathy, he had a youthful brush with the law that resurfaces just in time to jeopardize their chance to adopt. Just as Kingsley’s criminal entanglements might doom his chances to establish a law-abiding livelihood, and Max’s downward spiral into coke and alcohol abuse will seriously test the strength of his and Emily’s bond. Anyone who’s seen Short Cuts, Crash or the like will actively anticipate how might several of these disparate storylines collide or coalesce to produce insight and emotional resonance. The wait is not entirely worthwhile.

O’Hanlon, a first-time feature director with dozens of TV credits, swiftly sets the film’s many balls in motion, sending the camera prowling the streets alongside the Battersea denizens as their lives overlap geographically and in other unexpected ways. Barring a few impressionistic touches that prove more distracting than transporting, cinematographer Philipp Blaubach and crew handily capture the rhythms and movement of life in this metropolis where around any corner might await gainful opportunity or harrowing misfortune.

That finesse is sorely lacking in Leon Butler’s script, however, which cranks along mechanically, drawing little tension or forward momentum from carefully delineated characterization but rather from ridiculous turns of the plot. The most egregious of these affect the characters who are the least delineated in the first place: respectively, Jake, Emily’s unforgivably indiscreet guy on the side, and Terence, the bard of Battersea, who traipses around his crime-ridden neighborhood wearing a pair of shiny, expensive Beats headphones loudly blasting “Steal Me for Plot Purposes.”

As Terence, esteemed stage and screen vet Stott generally rises above the character’s near-insufferable habit of speaking in platitudes. He and Drameh establish a winning onscreen rapport, once Terence and delinquent Kingsley meet by chance and strike up an unlikely friendship. Known for playing an all-American superhero on The CW’s time-traveling TV hit “Legends of Tomorrow,” U.K. native Drameh draws a nuanced portrait here of what could have been a standard street punk, projecting the dawning maturity that distinguishes Kingsley from his thuggish peers. As George, “Battersea’s favorite singing cabbie,” Charlie Creed-Miles, aided by cartoonishly adorable glasses and a sweet tenor, delivers an endearing portrayal of a kind-hearted everyman who thought his worst mistakes were behind him.

The star attractions here are Idris Elba, who co-produced, and Gemma Arterton, who is well-cast as a so-called “WAG” grown weary of playing arm candy to her philandering sports-legend husband. Arterton followed up her breakout as a Bond girl in Quantum of Solace with feisty roles in a trio of decent-to-horrible, CGI-driven fantasy flicks—Clash of the Titans, Prince of Persia and Hansel & Gretel—and she carries this more life-sized film with aplomb. She commands a quickness and vulnerability that convincingly serve Emily’s quiet determination to forge an identity independent of wife and mother. She’s never more vulnerable than when Emily and Max reunite for a hasty bout of makeup sex, a sequence that for all its steaminess gains its authentically conflicted emotion from how Arterton plays the scene. Elba, always compelling, is not so credible as a lunkheaded lout. His Max falls victim in spectacular fashion to the aforementioned weak plotting (Emily leaves a laughable abundance of highly sensitive material lying about her kitchen), which builds to a tense but preposterous gun-waving climax that serves none of the characters and certainly not this otherwise grounded drama.

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