Blue Story (2019) ☆☆☆(3/4): Ghetto Gangs of London

“Blue Story” is a brutal British crime drama about two African British lads who happen to be driven into a series of violent and tragic happenings. To be frank with you, I really have no idea on how much the movie reflects the harsh reality out there in those African ghetto neighborhoods of London, but I must say that the movie grabbed my attention via its raw energy and palpable realism, and that is more than enough for compensating for a number of glaring weak points I observed during my viewing.

During the opening part, we see how its two heroes, Timmy (Stephen Odubola) and Marco (Michael Ward), became each other’s best friend during their childhood years. When young Timmy and his mother moved from Deptford to Peckham for getting him a better school education, young Timmy was understandably nervous at first, but then he quickly befriended young Marco at his new school, and that was the beginning of their long friendship.

Several years later, Timmy and Marco still attend the same school together along with their mutual male friends. Like many adolescent boys around their age, they all are quite interested in getting closer to those female students in their school, and one particular girl has attracted Timmy’s attention. Her name is Leah (Karla-Simone Spence), and Timmy is certainly excited when he hears that she will also go to a night party he and his friends are going to attend.

In the meantime, the movie also pays some attention to what is going on between the gang organization in Peckham and the rival counterpart in Deptford. As these two gang organization keep clashing with each other day by day, the tension around the two ghetto neighborhoods of London is gradually accumulated on streets and alleys, and that eventually leads to the tragic death of a certain key member of one of these two gang organizations, which accordingly leads to more hostility between these two criminal groups.

To Marco and Timmy, this increasingly violent circumstance in their neighborhood does not look that dangerous to them, though they are actually connected with these gang organizations in one way or another. While Marco is the younger brother of a key member of the gang organization in Peckham, an old childhood friend of Timmy is a member of the gang organization in Deptford, and he is certainly not so pleased to see his old childhood friend hanging around with the brother of one of the main enemies of his gang organization.

Of course, Timmy and Marco fatefully get themselves involved more in this situation, and, due to a series of unfortunate events, they soon find themselves opposing to each other with newfound hate and resentment toward each other. While Marco joins his brother’s gang organization, Timmy subsequently joins his old childhood friend’s gang organization, and both of them are quite eager to kill each other now.

As they and their gang organizations continue their vengeful turf war, the movie strikes us hard with numerous moments of shocking violence. Driven by their tribal mentality, Timmy, Marco, and many other gang organization members are quite determined to do anything with no consideration on the consequences of their actions, and the vicious cycle of violence is continued as before even while some of them eventually get killed or arrested by the police.

The movie has been compared to its American counterparts such as late John Singleton’s “Boyz n the Hood” (1991) and the Hughes brothers’ “Menace II Society” (1993), because director/writer Rapman’s screenplay is based on his own personal experiences of growing up in Deptford and then Peckham. The two gang organizations depicted in the film really exist in real life, and I came to learn later that some portions of the movie are actually inspired by true events.

Rapman, whose real name is Andrew Onwubolu, brings some stylish touches to his film, which complement well the gritty realism felt from several key scenes in the movie. As the omnipresent narrator of the story, he explains or summarizes his main characters’ situations via his rap song, and that certainly helps you a bit if you often have difficulty in understanding those local slangs frequently uttered by the characters throughout the film (To be frank with you, I had to check Google to learn what the hell ‘peng’ means).

The main weak point of the movie lies in its rather clumsy handling of plot and characters. As juggling many different characters besides Timmy and Marco, the story sometimes becomes too unfocused, and many of characters in the film are not developed that well, though this and other notable flaws in the film are thankfully not very distracting due to the strong performances from its good main cast members. While Stephen Odubola and Michael Ward give engaging lead performances at the center of the film, the other main performers including Khali Best, Eric Kofi-Abrefa, and Junior Afolabi Salokun are solid in their respective supporting roles, and Karla-Simone Spence brings some warmth and sensitive to her substantial female character in the story.

Overall, “Blue Story” is flawed to some degree, but its considerable raw energy is something you cannot easily ignore, and you will admire its director’s rough but undeniably passionate filmmaking. Some of you may still hesitate mainly because the movie was partially banned in British theaters in last year due to an unfortunate incident which allegedly happened during its theater screening, but this is inarguably another interesting debut work of this year, and I urge you to check it out and then evaluate it for yourself.

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