Idris Elba's directorial debut is bursting with good ideas and an understanding that future films from the Luther star might be worthwhile.But wooden performances and a run-of-the-mill gangster narrative hold Yardie, based on the 1992 Victor Headley novel,back from greatness.
In 1970-something Kingston, Jamaica, young D (for Dennis; Antwayne Eccleston as the young version) watches as his brother uses reggae to usher in a tenuous peace between two prominent street gangs after a young girl is killed in the crossfire of a daytime shootout. All is well, briefly, but when Dennis' brother is gunned down by another mysterious youth, he's thrust into the world of violent gangland nonsense and drug-running himself, working for the notorious King Fox (Sheldon Shepherd).
Cut to 10 years later, and Dennis (Aml Ameen) is sent to London to deliver cocaine to British crimelord-lite Rico (Snatch's Stephen Graham), but a series of confusing double- or triple- or quadruple-crosses enmeshed with some really boneheaded maneuvers sends our hero spiraling out of control and running from the only family he's really known, while uncovering the truth behind his brother's murder.
Elba proves capable in the director's seat, though Yardie stumbles to find any original footing within the gangster genre. D could have proven explosively interesting, but Ameen's take on an overwhelmed and emotional kid in over his head feels irritatingly dimensionless. He has anger down pat, and there are moments where he reels us in, but he squanders any chance at nuance with shouting, leaving us without any particular emotional connection beyond his murdered brother and unsure of why we should be in his corner.
Yardie does provide a smattering of breathless action-y scenes, and the soundtrack backdrop of Britain's much-ballyhooed 1980s reggae, rocksteady and ska uprising makes for some electric feelings. But the film can't seem to decide if it wants to be a crime drama or character study, which winds up diluting its chances at either. We're more interested to see if Elba continues to sharpen his already distinctive directorial style. He's off to a good start, he just needs some better players.
+Elba proves promising; the soundtrack
-Ameen lacks dimension; pointless narration
Directed by Elba
With Ameen, Shepherd, Graham and Eccleston
Jean Cocteau Cinema, NR, 101 min.