out of Five
Running time: 99
Engaging, well made urban drama with striking camerawork, strong performances and a powerful central theme, though the dialogue wobbles occasionally and there are a couple of embarrassingly bad lines.
What's it all about?
Written and directed by Dan Turner, The Man Inside stars Ashley Thomas as Clayton Murdoch, an aspiring inner city boxer whose younger brother Jay (Lennox Kambaba) and pregnant sister Kia (Zara Oram) are targeted by Kia's vicious ex-boyfriend Karl (Theo Barklem-Biggs) after he stabs Kia's current boyfriend Alfie (Samuel Folay). However, Clayton has his own problems to deal with: the mental scars left by his psychotic father Eugene (David Harewood) run deep and things only get worse when Eugene reaches out to Clayton from behind bars via a prison associate (Ray Panthaki).
Meanwhile, Clayton's trainer and surrogate father Gordon (Peter Mullan) and best friend Danny (Jason Maza) try to keep him focussed on the boxing, but their cause isn't helped by Gordon's ex-junkie daughter Alexia (Michelle Ryan) falling for Clayton, stirring up feelings that he struggles to control.
Despite its over familiar plot, this is a cut above the usual British urban drama fare, thanks to cinematographer Richard Swingle's striking camerawork (making strong use of some impressively framed close-ups) and a powerful central theme about the dark shadows cast by mental and physical abuse. Clayton's violent fantasies are genuinely terrifying, like monsters waiting to consume him, yet his commendable refusal to give in to them holds him back in the boxing ring.
Thomas delivers a tightly wound performance as Clayton that's extremely effective (although there's maybe a little too much crying) and there's strong support from Peter Mullan, giving the film a noticeable touch of class, while Harewood and Barklem-Briggs are both chilling in different ways as the film's resident psychopaths.
Similarly, Michelle Ryan gives one of her best performances to date as Alexia and if you've ever wanted to know what EastEnders' Zoe Slater might have looked like in thick Goth make-up, then this is the film for you.
The main problem with the film is that the dialogue, while mostly decent, occasionally becomes clunky and awkward, with a small handful of the lines being so embarrassingly bad to the point that they take you out of the film. Similarly, there are a couple of niggling plot issues (such as the total non-involvement of the police, despite the chief suspect being glaringly obvious) that let the film down a little.
Despite a few issues with the script The Man Inside is, for the most part, an engaging and well made urban drama and there's enough here to mark out writer/director Dan Turner as a future British talent to watch.