[Review] 'Concrete Plans' is a Well-Orchestrated Slow Burn that Seals Viewers in with Captivating Performances
Ok, so I want you to go back in time with me. Indulge me a little here...
...It’s 2002 and the film Panic Room is out. After Fight Club’s mixed initial reception, director David Fincher came back swinging with this crowd-pleasing thriller. In it, we witness the “good bad guy” trope, played expectedly well by Forest Whitaker. He’s the nice bad guy, so you secretly want to root for him, even though we know the film won’t let these dirty deeds go unpunished! He is, after all, robbing Jodie Foster. It worked in the film, primarily because screenwriting veteran David Koepp knows how to make a sympathetic character like that feel justified. That one aspect of Panic Room is essentially the overarching emotional purpose of writer/director Will Jewell’s new thriller, Concrete Plans. The idea that we’re supposed to sympathize with a group of crooks isn’t anything particularly new, but it’s a recipe that’s hard to get right. Fortunately, Jewell and company have made a fine film, if a bit uneven.
Deep in the Welsh mountains, Simon (Kevin Guthrie), an aristocratic estate heir, has hired a group of men to renovate an old farmhouse near his property. The situation is seemingly normal until we learn of Simon’s web of financial wreckage. He is unable to pay the workers on time, which leaves the work team’s leader, Bob (Steve Speirs) responsible for tempering the anticipation of his workers. After several weeks of no pay, tensions reach a boiling point amongst the group and they begin to have trouble trusting each other. On top of that, a much more devious plan seems to be underway in the background that might just leave everyone involved penniless.
Right from the get-go, it’s clear that Concrete Plans has a sense of presentation and reinforces the importance and impact of aesthetics. Our opening shot is an ariel bird’s eye view of the worksite, panning in slowly while rotating. It might sound simple on paper, but the actual execution of it is pretty impressive. Keeping with a depressive, anxiety-ridden tone, Plans pulls all the stops when expressing its themes. There isn’t one single ray of sunshine in the entire film, emphasized by the statically overcast weather of the Welsh mountains. Interiors are lit with as much color sucked out without being questionably monochrome as possible and light is harsh, creating an uneasy feeling throughout. Rachel Clark’s cinematography is steady and consistent, never getting in the way of itself. This is an impressive looking film through and through, and the dread-filled score by Paul Hartnoll adds a powerful level of brutal sincerity. Several scenes exhibit realistic violence, and the score effectively emphasizes the seriousness of these situations by adding a sense of dark legitimacy.
Sights and sounds aside, the film’s biggest strength is its excellent ensemble cast. Viktor (Goran Bogdan), Jim (Chris Reilly), Bob, Dave (William Thomas), and Steve (Charley Palmer Rothwell) are all memorable, three dimensional characters. Each one has their own motive, inner struggle, and emotional baggage. They aren’t really tropes of any kind, which makes them more diverse and interesting. The only struggle I had was that I’m not sure who, if anyone, I’m supposed to relate to. Our main characters have very few redeeming qualities and it bothered me, at least at first. I needed more to connect with than just the fact that they had a good reason to steal from the rich. Also, these characters don’t ever get an arc, which I find highly dissatisfying in an ensemble piece like this. That said, the performances are so captivating that it makes up for it.
The story itself is very well executed. The way events unfold is unpredictable and I think that’s because the characters don’t fall into tropes or types of any kind. We don’t really know what to expect from them or what they’re capable of. This film quite daringly explores the lengths one will go to for money. I saw an opportunity for this film to be a heavy-handed cautionary tale, but I never felt like a message was being jammed down my throat. I’ve just surmised that, because of the terrible things that happen to our characters as the result of the pursuit of money, it seems a likely sentiment. I think the message is, overall, an important one and I appreciate the fact that the film trusts its audience enough to not have to spell out exactly what it means.
Concrete Plans looks good, sounds good, and, for the most part, is a rollicking thriller. Technically stunning, well-acted, and front loaded with a positive message, the film gets it right in the broad strokes. Its character resolution shortcomings and unjustified motivations definitely stick out, but as a whole, Concrete Plans delivers a punchy, smart, and well-orchestrated slow burn thriller.
Concrete Plans comes to VOD/Digital from Dark Sky Films March 5th.
By Jeffrey W. Hollingsworth
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