Trespass Against Us
Michael Fassbender, Brendan Gleeson, Lyndsey Marshal
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Despite feeling a little crime-film-familiar, Trespass Against Us triumphs through its towering performances and unusual setting.
Criminal communities have long provided the grist for the toughest corners of the cinematic mill, be it the grandiose movements of the Italian mafia and The Yakuza, the grungier stylings of the Irish mob, or even a tightknit crew of Australian bank robbers in Animal Kingdom. Often referenced (most notably in Guy Ritchie’s Snatch), but rarely if ever the focus, Britain’s “travellers” – bottom-feeding crims who crisscross the country in dilapidated camper vans – drive the narrative in Trespass Against Us, the terse, vernacular-driven debut from UK TV and music video man, Adam Smith.
The travellers in question are parked in the picturesque English countryside and lorded over by Colby Cutler (Brendan Gleeson), a man just a little too in tune with his kingly qualities. His is an insular world, where the kids don’t go to school, and all authority figures are to be hated and distrusted, while their culturally specific language forms an instant barrier to outsiders. Colby’s world view is so isolationist, in fact, that he actually appears to believe that the world is flat. His son, Chad (Michael Fassbender), however, is considerably more outward looking: he sends his decent but wayward kids to school, and has his eyes set on putting down roots outside the traveller community that he will presumably one day lead. Already at loggerheads, the fraught relationship between Colby and Chad is put under further pressure when the crew pull a major burglary on a country estate that puts them in the sights of the local police.
Despite playing with a raft of hoary old crime movie tropes (father-son tension; the new guard versus the old; cold, unfeeling cops; the crook who wants to go straight; and so on), there’s an undeniable freshness to Trespass Against Us, courtesy of Alastair Siddons’ slang-rich script (at first, subtitles feel necessary, but the writing is clever enough to quickly reveal itself), Adam Smith’s urgent direction, and an unsurprisingly atypical score by The Chemical Brothers, with whom Smith has worked frequently in the past. But the real hook here, of course, is the joy of watching two acting titans go head to head and toe to toe, with Michael Fassbender and Brendan Gleeson leaving absolutely nothing in the tank. Their warring, loving, bruising relationship feels real and authentic, and it gives Trespass Against Us a ferocious enough kick to override its sense of familiarity.