Yardie, directed Idris Elba, displays his experience and talent as an actor, but interestingly not from a performance stand point but in how he is able to get the best from his actors, and in turn form likeable, engaging characters whom you care about and are eager to watch. However, as a storyteller, Idris Elba’s inexperience behind the camera shows, as the film’s story feels clumsy and poorly paced. I’m really interested to review this film and explore not only its content, but also what the future holds for the beloved actor in a directing role. So, let’s bring this intro to a close and get on with the main review itself. Come join me, won’t you?
We follow the story of D (Dennis Campbell) – played by Aml Ameen – who after the murder of his brother is taken in by a gang lord known as King Fox – played by Sheldon Shepherd – where a life of crime becomes his only path. D is sent to London to deliver a special package to a dangerous gangster known as Rico – played by Stephen Graham – but D quickly flips things on their head and soon begins causing trouble all over the city, while also trying to reconnect with his only love, Yvonne – played by Shantol Jackson. It’s a story of war, revenge and love. All the ingredients you’d hope would make for a compelling story.
This is a film that is infused and bursting with so much character. The individuals on-screen, the locations that define those people (whether it be Jamaica or England in the 80’s), the culture that defines them; the music, the clothing, the politics of the time. Every little detail in this film plays into expanding and offering characteristics from a place and time that – because of this film – still feel alive and well in the moment.
It means that there’s more to indulge in than just the characters and their lives. Getting to sit there and have the groove of Afro-Caribbean music flow over and through you makes Yardie a film you want to dance along to – the want to tap your feet or shimmy your shoulders will be urges you can’t ignore.
So your ears are graced with the infectious beats of a particular genre of music that defined a generation and their way of life, and at the same time your eyes are treated to an authentic looking time, where big expressive clothing was the standard and gaudy interior design was the norm. It’s clear that the film’s director, Idris Elba (a man who grew up in this time and was shaped by it) has made sure to have everything look exactly like it was. He and his team of designers and artists certainly nailed the look and feel of such an iconic time, and it plays a major part in allowing the film to feel like it was ripped out of time and put on the screen for us to watch.
And it’s not just the character of the film, there are also the characters themselves. Behind the look and sound of Yardie, the characters on offer and the handling of them is certainly the strongest element of the film. Like I said in the beginning: Idris Elba’s experience as an actor shines through, as it is the characters he puts on-screen and the performances from his actors that make Yardie not be a total fumble.
Those actors that Elba brought together do a lot to strengthen and expand the characters they have. Aml Ameen (D) has such a presence on-screen. He’s both charming and also intimidating. He was someone who I was excited to follow along with on his journey. He’s also surrounded by an assortment of unique and interesting characters – though many of them are pretty surface level in terms of their offerings. Each having one or two defining qualities, but nothing more. But that’s where the excellent casting comes into play. Actors like Shantol Jackson, Stephen Graham and Sheldon Shepherd (plus a few more) make the characters who they are; make them more than what the script gives them, and I have to imagine Idirs Elba and his years of experience played a great part in making that the case. If he has the opportunity to direct more (which I imagine he will) I can see him becoming a great director of actors, but I do hope his talent as a storyteller improves.
Because beyond those larger than life characters of the film, there is a poor attempt at a story and subsequently the telling of that story. There is somewhere deep within Yardie a story that if told better, could be really quite impactful; a story that I think would make the film far more effective and fulfilling. Unfortunately, the telling of the story is clumsy and difficult to follow, which in turn doesn’t ever result in a story that’s engaging.
I think a primary factor, but not the only factor, in why the story in Yardie doesn’t come together is the films troubled pacing. For a film that is infused with the sounds of Afro-Caribbean music; for a film built upon the infectious rhythmic tunes of the 80’s, it’s disappointing to see a film with no rhythm to its pacing. Yardie is a film that constantly feels like it’s stopping and starting. Think of it like being in a car with a first-time driver who struggles to find the right gear and keeps jolting the car back and forth. Anytime I would feel I was beginning to find the path that the film wanted to take, it would seem to reset itself and I would be back at the beginning. After a while, I found myself giving up and ending any meaningful engagement with the actual story.
This resulted in the later moments of the film failing to instil the emotions or effect they seemed to be going for. When characters would fulfil personal moments that they’d been chasing for years; when that cathartic wave of satisfaction would wash over them, it felt incomplete, unearned. It didn’t have the impact it should have had. It left things feeling… well… feeling like nothing. There had been no moment to grab onto and feel engaged by, so when those climactic character moments came, it just felt empty.
But when I look at Yardie as a whole, I wouldn’t say it’s a failure. Yes, the film didn’t satisfy in the way I was hoping it would, but it’s also not a badly made film. Idris Elba clearly shows he has within him the ability to direct a film, and I think that as he hones the craft, he will go onto produce something quite special. I also have to give my appreciation to Elba who created a film that pays homage to a section of the populace and a genre of music that doesn’t get the light of cinema shone on it often. You can see the love that Elba has for it all, and the lengths he went to, to have it feel authentic and true.
When it comes to recommending Yardie, I’m of two minds. There are certainly a number of issues with the film. Issues that at times leave it feeling disappointing. But I still think there’s something within this film that makes it worth giving a chance. It’s not a great film but it’s also not a bad one either.
I will recommend, Yardie. But (emphasis on the but) I will stress that it’s not a film that will deliver on what you’re probably hoping it to be. Idris Elba’s first outing as a director is not the great success we were all hoping it to be, but it shows real promise. If seeing his directorial debut is something you are really eager to do, then there’s still something here to satisfy you. But if you’re just going to watch the film, temper your expectations and prepare for an experience that you more than likely won’t be that enamoured with. Either way, I still hope you find some goodness in your trip to see Yardie, as enjoying film is a special thing.
I’m really interested to know what you thought of Yardie? So please, leave any opinions or feedback on my review that you may have, in the comments section down below. If you liked what you read and would be up for reading more, may I recommend following both/either my blog and/or my Twitter – @GavinsRamblings – and then you’ll always know when a new piece goes up. But I’ll bring things to a close now my offering you my sincere thanks. Thank you for taking some of your time and dedicating it towards reading my silly little blog. Words can’t describe how much I appreciate it. Until the next time, have a wonderful day!