Is There Enough in Adam Smith’s Trespass against Us for It to Enter the Canon of Gangster Classics?

There are some actors and actresses who are the cinematic equivalent of a safe bet. Michael Fassbender is one of these performers. Whether it be his collaborations with big-name directors like Ridley Scott or Danny Boyle, his appearances in smaller indie pictures like Slow West or Frank, hell even in the movies that don’t quite work like X-Men: Apocalypse or Assassin’s Creed – he always brings the talent. Even more so, there is always a feeling that he’s studied his characters intensely, like a stage actor – finding out exactly what makes them tick – implementing his own findings into the performance in a very nuanced way.

In Trespass Against Us, he plays Chad Cutler – the oldest son and heir to aging gangster, Colby (the always terrific Brendan Gleeson) – a man who twists the words of the Bible to justify his actions. The two, along with Chad’s family – his wife Kelly (Rome’s Lyndsey Marshal) and two children – live like travellers in caravans along the English countryside. Worried about the influence his father is having on his young children, as well as the outlaws he allows to congregate on their land, Chad plots to escape the life of crime. However, Colby has other plans, involving him in a dangerous heist – one that causes the family to butt heads with P.C. Lovage (Penny Dreadful’s Rory Kinnear) – a policeman with history dealing with the Cutlers.

Trespass Against Us is in many respects a fairly-standard debut for TV and music video director Adam Smith. He stages moments of action well, particularly the car chases, but there is a distinct feeling that he is wrestling with the script by Alastair Siddons that leaves no gangster cliché unturned: an unlikable cop on our anti-hero’s tail, religious imagery, familial strife.

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Trespass Against Us. Source

That said, two elements of Trespass Against Us make it very watchable. Firstly, it’s the traveller angle of the story that allows the film to mark itself out from similar movies. Smith and Siddons, both of whom reportedly spent time with real-life families in the vein of the Cutlers, do capture an almost Synge-esque feeling of the traveller as an outlaw – people who grow tired of conventional life and take to the hills to live off the grid. A character played very well by Sean Harris is an example of this – a person based on a real man, according to director Adam Smith at a post-screening Q&A, who suffered from a mental illness but was taken in by a traveller family, living with them away from modern society.

Secondly, there’s the terrific cast. Fassbender manages to make a character who could be unlikable – he is a thief and a thug – very interesting. Chad’s a tragic figure. He’s someone torn between the outlaw life he loves – an early scene sees him stopping during a car-chase with police to buy cigarettes – and providing a better life for his family. Although he has grown accustomed to his way of living, he doesn’t want his children to be unable to read, like him, or to be looked down upon by people of conventional society – an internal struggle which Fassbender really sells. Gleeson is a joy to watch delivering these insane backwards religious parables: “hell hath no fury like a locked up super-goat”. Plus, a diverse supporting cast comprised of distinct character actors like Marshal, Kinnear and Harris, as well as Love/Hate’s Killian Scott and Barry Keoghan all look the part.

Ultimately, Trespass Against Us won’t enter the canon of gangster classics – it’s a little too pedestrian and it struggles to maintain a consistent tone, evident by its last scene which aims to be both hilarious and tragic. But it is entertaining, with some well-executed action set-pieces, a nice insight into a community of people one doesn’t see on-screen often, and typically fine turns by Gleeson and Fassbender.

Trespass Against Us is in cinemas now. View the trailer below.

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