Screenwriter: Noel Clarke
Starring: Noel Clarke, Scarlett Alice Johnson, Adam Deacon
Running Time: 99 mins
> Click here to watch our interview with Noel Clarke and Scarlett Alice Johnson
As an exercise in exploring prevalent youth issues, 2006's Kidulthood managed to address suicide, drugs, sex and murder in 90 minutes, before offering up the predictable sermon of "Just don't do it, kids!". Noel Clarke, the writer and star of that film, is back with a similar message for this sequel, the more sensibly titled Adulthood.
Six years after murdering Trife at the climax of Kidulthood, Sam (Clarke, also on directing duties) is released from prison a changed man. No longer the angry bully of yesterday, his simmering rage swapped for crippling guilt, he is seeking redemption. Within hours of being freed, a knife-wielding attacker issues a threat to Sam and his family. The incident hammers home to him that, although much time has passed, the West London gang culture he left behind hasn't forgotten him.
Clarke gives a superb, nuanced performance in a film that can't support him. Seeing Sam in prison through flashbacks, we see why his volatile personality has been subdued with somberness and reservation. However, Clarke's adroit reworking of his paper-thin Kidulthood character seems to have shifted his focus away from other areas of the film, leaving Adulthood a frustrating, unsatisfying film constantly at odds with itself.
Sam's quest for forgiveness plays out as a serious, BAFTA-baiting drama, whereas the rest of the film is over the top, lacking in visual restraint and, in the character of Jay (Adam Deacon), possesses an antagonist who undercuts any sense of danger by acting as both villain and comic relief.
Several key players from last time around are back: the aforementioned Jay, Moony (Femi Oyeniran), Claire (Madeleine Fairley) and Alisa (Red Madrell) are older and in most cases wiser. However, Clarke fails to give the latter three anything of significance to do. Fairley's sole purpose is to be pleasured by Danny Dyer - whose brief presence jars with a cast of unknowns - and scream like she's in a horror film when old flame Sam confronts her. Only drug addict Lexi (former Albert Square resident Scarlett Alice Johnson), who finds a fellow lost soul in Sam, gets fleshed out. Her character become endearing from the moment she name-drops Um Bongo (they drink it in the Congo!).
The snappy, jittery direction of the first movie is turned up a notch with cinematographer Brian Tufano (Trainspotting) giving London a grimy, grotty feel. Clarke's intention to make an earnest, honest and serious drama is hamstrung by pandering to the MTV crowd with an over-reliance on visual gymnastics. Sliding split-screen montages that break off into comic book panels and a pulsating bass soundtrack - usually cued in by Sam whipping his hoodie up over his head (unintentionally quite funny) - will keep the ADD-afflicted happy, but the visual trickery - including a bizarre Matrix-style showdown in the finale - is superficial and hollow, masking underdeveloped characters and plot problems.
Adulthood is a better film than its predecessor and is worth a look for Clarke's central performance, but the ex-Doctor Who star's desire to be a West London Orson Welles seems a stretch too far for this film. As an actor he has considerable chops; as a filmmaker he's maybe not quite the finished article. With Adulthood, Clarke has bravely shouldered a lot of responsibility, but you feel that if he had conceded either his director, writer or star chores to someone with more experience then the film could have been a far less frustrating experience.