Movie Review: Shank

I’ve watched a number of movies that have dealt with the theme of young men coming to terms with being gay.  However, it is the rare movie that explores that theme with the intensity and rawness as Shank, the British film directed by Simon Pearce.  In this film, Pearce gives us a glimpse into the life of Cal, a teenage gang member who is trying to hide his sexual orientaion from his fellow thugs.

The movie quickly introduces us to Cal, who copes with his feelings by engaging in random sexual encounters, drug use, and gang violence.  The first few scenes show the gritty nature of his life in the gang.  However, Cal’s life suddenly changes when his best mate, Jonno, and their de facto leader, Nessa, decide to pick on poor Olivier, a French exchange student who is stereotypically and somewhat flamboyantly gay.  In a moment of conscience and fear — and perhaps seeing too much of himself and his potential fate in Olivier and the treatment he receives — Cal stops the pair from beating the French boy, allows him to escape, and then abandons his fellow thugs to apologize to Olivier and offer him a lift home.

Cal attempts to return to his gang’s hideout later, only to discover that he is not only unwelcome, but an acceptable target for his former comrades’ anger and violence.  Cal escapes and returns to Olivier, and the pair soon get involved in a rocky, tenuous relationship.  However, Nessa and the other gang members discover Cal’s secret and begin to hunt down the pair.

This movie is a masterful blending of grit (to rival FAQ’s and Ethan Mao) and tender sensuality, demonstrating the storm of emotions that Cal experiences as he is tugged in different directions.  All of the actors play their parts well, filling each scene with emotion through words, tone of voice, body gestures, and expression.  Even characters like Nessa, whose deeper motives for her anger and rage towards Cal are beautifully fore-shadowed toward the beginning of the movie, are given a great deal of attention and depth.

One particularly interesting piece of cinematography in this movie was the use of the cell phone video footage. The gang always recorded their acts of violence via cell phone, and this fact was used in the movie to hint at violence to come at times.  It was an interesting way of adding a bit of suspense at critical moments.

My one criticism of this movie would be that there’s a bit more synchronicity in the movie than is really reasonable.  For example, it’s entirely too convenient that the first sexual encounter Cal has with the movie is with Scott, who later turns out to be one of Olivier’s university instructors.  There were other coincidences involving Scott, which I will not go into, as it would reveal too much about how the movie concludes.

As a final note, I would warn readers that this is a very violent movie and even includes sexual violence.  Those who are bothered or emotionally trigger by such things should either skip this one or take appropriate precautions when sitting down to watch it.

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