Dir: Eran Creevy
There are a couple of good films to be made with the material that writer/director Eran Creevy has come up with for Shifty. Sadly Shifty itself isn’t always one of them.
The chief problem with the ffilm is that it’s all just so incredibly familiar. Chris (Mays) returns to his old South London home to visit old friend Shifty (Ahmed) for the first time in four years. In that time Shifty has become a crack dealer and, as he and Chris make his regular rounds, Shifty’s until now comfortable life threatens to unravel. It just feels like gangsta movie making by numbers. The characters are all entirely stock and the events of the story, down to the very last image, are incredibly predictable. However, that’s not to say that Shifty is a waste of your time.
The script may be hopelessly cliché, but the actors have really thrown themselves into it, and all the performances are excellent. Riz Ahmed is highly charismatic and charming as Shifty, drawing you into the character and his world, despite what he does for a living. Ahmed also has strong chemistry with Daniel Mays, who is equally excellent as Chris. The two actors work so well together that you instantly buy the connection between them and get wrapped up in their friendship. This is also to Creevy’s credit, as the dialogue between Shifty and Chris generally has an easy and believable flow. The script does, however, fail to give most of its characters more than one dimension, particularly when it comes to the supporting cast. That said, the performances of Jay Simpson and Danielle Brent (as a cocaine addicted builder and his wife) and especially that of Nitin Ganatra as Shifty’s older brother bring extra dimensions to their roles. Most of the acting is almost too good to be in this movie, showing the script’s weaknesses up more noticeably than might otherwise be the case, but still, quality performances are always welcome.
To Eran Creevy’s credit he’s worked wonders visually with his £100,000 budget and 18 day schedule, making Shifty look like a film. Much low budget cinema (recently The Queen comes to mind) looks like television that has somehow ended up on a very big screen, not so Shifty. Creevy’s composition is often effective, particularly in a late scene between Shifty and Chris, which plays out almost entirely in silhouette.
So if the acting is great, and the visuals are strong, what’s the problem? It’s this: I don’t care. I’ve seen this story so often that I know exactly where it's going, and there’s little, acting aside, about this telling that really engages. At the end of the day I was more interested in the B story, featuring Jay Simpson and Danielle Brent, and in the backstory about how Shifty and Chris’ earlier dealing led to a terrible accident. Either of those might have made a better and certainly a less familiar film. Shifty isn’t bad, and is worth seeing for the fine performances, but you’ve probably seen it before, and better.