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Idris Elba Elevates Middling Material For His Directorial Debut “Yardie”

From time to time, it’s worth considering whether a director or a screenwriter has more influence over the final outcome of a film. Can a bad script undercut a good director? Is a good one able to hide the flaws of a bad filmmaker? The answer to both probably resides somewhere in between. The one thing I’m fairly certain of is this: a first time director can’t make do with a poor screenplay. Unfortunately for Idris Elba, the actor is making his directorial debut utilizing a script that’s lacking in juice. This makes Yardie, his first effort behind the camera, a step or two down from where it otherwise could have been. Elba shows some chops, but the material fails him throughout. He elevates it somewhat, but not enough to save the day.

The film is a crime drama, with the sort of plot we’ve seen in this sort of picture all too often before. This is the synopsis provided by StudioCanal, who handled some of the international distribution: “Set in ’70s Kingston and ’80s Hackney, Yardie centres on the life of a young Jamaican man named D (Aml Ameen), who has never fully recovered from the murder, committed during his childhood, of his older brother Jerry Dread (Everaldo Creary). D grows up under the wing of a Kingston Don and music producer named King Fox (Sheldon Shepherd). Fox dispatches him to London, where he reconnects with his childhood sweetheart, Yvonne (Shantol Jackson), and his daughter who he’s not seen since she was a baby. He also hooks up with a soundclash crew, called High Noon. But before he can be convinced to abandon his life of crime and follow “the righteous path”, he encounters the man who shot his brother 10 years earlier, and embarks on a bloody, explosive quest for retribution – a quest which brings him into conflict with vicious London gangster Rico (Stephen Graham).” If it all sounds familiar, it comes off that way as well. Elba directs a screenplay by Brock Norman Brock and Martin Stellman, while the cast also includes Antwayne Eccleston, Fraser James, and more. Dickon Hinchliffe composed the score, while the cinematography is by John Conroy.

I needed just a bit more from this movie than what I got. Elba is undercut by a mediocre script, dulling his otherwise solid filmmaking style. It weighs him down and prevents this from being a success. It’s a disappointing that that’s the case, especially since one of the writers is Brock Norman Brock, who also has a hand in another release this week. His work co-writing The Mustang is far superior to his co-writing here with this flick. It’s a shame too, since there was potential here. Elba is going to make terrific genre films going forward, if that’s what he chooses to do. Yardie shows hints of some strong style, but it also sinks within the mediocrity of the aforementioned screenplay. It limits what he can put forward, which dulls the effectiveness with which he sets out to tell a gritty story.

This week, Idris Elba fans can see a new skillset from the A-lister when Yardie opens. The man who just signed on to play Deadshot in a new Suicide Squad film could soon be making that sort of thing. He certainly has the chops. He just needs to choose more compelling material. As mentioned above, there’s only so much that you can do with a cliched premise, especially when you’re an inexperienced director. This experience will 100% serve him well though, and will fuel him going forward. The movie satisfies somewhat as a genre effort, but it leaves you wanting more, and that’s a shame…

Yardie hits theaters this weekend!

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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