One bad Yardie

Observer senior writer

Thursday, January 25, 2018

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THERE has been much pre-release hype surrounding Yardie, a movie about the infamous Jamaican gang that roamed England in the 1980s and 1990s. It premiered last Saturday at the Sundance Music Festival, and the critics for the most part were not impressed.

Yardie marks British actor Idris Elba's directorial debut, and has Jamaicans Sheldon Shepherd and Everaldo Creary of reggae group No-Maddz among its stars.

Sundance, held annually in Utah, showcases independent and big budget films. It is usually a gauge for movies doing well, or bombing, at the American box office.

David Rooney, writing in The Hollywood Reporter, had favourable words for Elba but says Yardie falls short.

“In his feature directing debut, Idris Elba shows a decent grasp of the fundaments of old-fashioned, novelistic storytelling. But for a movie that throbs with the reggae-inflected beats of a punchy soundtrack, Yardie is a rather listless gangland saga, lacking the muscularity that the genre demands. Adapted from Victor Headley's 1992 black British pulp novel, which became a UK publishing sensation, and laced with dialogue in thick Jamaican patois, the film might hold some charm for audiences nostalgic for the multi-culti mean streets of 1980s East London and the taste of Red Stripe lager. But it's a pedestrian effort that could have used a serious hit of Elba's dangerous charisma onscreen.”

Writing for Britain's The Guardian newspaper, Jordan Hoffman was scathing. He wrote that, “It gives me zero pleasure to report that Idris Elba's first go as a feature film director, Yardie, is a disappointment. It was one of those screenings where you go in with your fingers crossed – who doesn't love Idris Elba? – but eventually you have to stop kidding yourself. This movie isn't just patchy: it simply doesn't work.”

Hoffman was also taken with the Yardie soundtrack, but not much else.

“There's no shortage of cultural and period specificity, but the movie is still somehow lacking in texture. The main tool used to counter that is music, mixing a score by Dickon Hinchliffe of Tindersticks with fabulous tracks that span the story's decades, from Lord Creator's Kingston Town and The Isley Brothers' Work to Do through Grace Jones' My Jamaican Guy and Black Uhuru's Guess Who's Coming to Dinner. But just as the music elements never really seem all that essential to the plot, nor does the soundtrack do enough to disguise the dramatic deficiencies.”

There has been considerable hype around Yardie, though it being Elba's first time behind the camera. Known for his roles in films like Mandela: Long Road to Freedom and Sometimes In April, he told the Los Angeles Times recently that though Yardie reflects on a negative period for immigrants in England, he wants the movie to depict Jamaicans positively.

“The opportunity here was to try and make this feel different. Yes, it is a gangster film, there is a gangster character in it, but this is an opportunity to put a different lens on Jamaica and Jamaican culture,” he said.




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