Movie Review: Trespass Against Us

British film tries to be a blend of crime film, family drama and social statement

Trespass Against Us
Directed by Adam Smith
With Michael Fassbender, Brendan Gleeson, Lyndsey Marshal, Killian Scott, Rory Kinnear, Sean Harris

For a film to be successful it has to have at least one character people can relate to. Trespass Against Us takes us among a multigenerational family of thieves called the Cutlers living in trailers in rural Gloucestershire. The film is a fairly low-key kitchen sink affair, not unlike I, Daniel Blake, only nobody in the film is truly likeable.

The Cutlers survive by a long string of petty theft, and the local police have a hard time pinning anything specific on them. Their campground is a mess of junk with goats and chickens running around. Colby Cutler (played by Brendan Gleeson) rules over the family, keeping everyone on a short leash. He pontificates against letting people learn to read and write, claims the earth is flat and teaches the younger generation that it was the police who killed Jesus.

Colby lives off of the crime his extended family commits, so keeping them under his thumb at all costs is in his best interest.

His son Chad (Michael Fassbender) wants to get out of his shadow and raise his own children to be able to have a better life. He and his wife, Kelly (Lyndsey Marshal), are sending their kids to school and planning to move out of the trailer camp and into a real flat.

Colby, of course, discourages the kids from doing homework, tells them the teachers are wrong and encourages them to play hookey. This will ensure they have no future except to steal and give him the proceeds. If it was good enough for his father and grandfather it is good enough for them, he says.

The film pads out its time with some scenes that are supposed to make you bond with the family a bit. One of the clan is in jail and Colby gets the idea to drive a stolen car around town with a misspelled slogan on the side demanding his release. It turns into a chase with the car driving down city sidewalks, but the Fast & Furious franchise need not worry. Theirs is better.

Another way the film tries to engage the audience is with quirky characters. One of the Cutler clan is Road Warrior–style maniac, running around half dressed and howling while randomly throwing explosive objects onto the campfire when he isn't abusing animals.

Colby's plans turn more and more devious as he battles to mess up Chad's life so he and his kids can never escape into the mainstream society. This leads to a big robbery caper and more chases, even involving a helicopter with heat sensing cameras.

In an effort to make Chad, Kelly and their kids more sympathetic, the police are depicted negatively, stooping so low as to use the cruelly children as pawns to they to make the parents confess to what they know about the string of robberies.

But in the end, the film is an odd grab bag of melodrama, action and social issues, with none of it being all that compelling.

Michael Fassbender is a charismatic actor, and it is tempting to try to like him in the role, but he is little more than a common thief. His heart is in the right place, trying to get his family free of the patriarch's tyranny, but his bulk of his actions are on the wrong side of the law.

As the patriarch, Brendan Gleeson gives an excellent performance of a completely unlikeable character. He has no redeeming features at all and yet still keeps hold over his clan. The way he twists facts to make himself look like he is always in the right is masterful. The conflict between Colby and Chad is a showdown between two top actors. But it is hard to get invested in the outcome.

The only one who scores is Lyndsey Marshal as Kelly. Why she got married to Chad and why she ever agreed to live in the trailer park is a complete mystery. Colby makes it clear all the time she is not welcome, and makes his best effort to chase her off. Considering the children are school age, this must have been going on daily for years. Of all the cast, she is the only one who seems to be an innocent victim.

Trespass Against Us is a well-made look at people living on the fringes of society, but nothing in their lives is particularly interesting. The action scenes help to momentarily liven up the film, but seem to be a contrivance to help boost the tepid family drama.

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