Blu-ray Review: SCREWED - Never Offends But Never Impresses Either

With some decent performances (and some poor ones), the film itself is let down by a markedly poor and indecisive script. It’s worth a watch if you’re into your British indie cinema, but it’s definitely not worth a night in the cells.

rating: 2.5

It€™s a tough climate lately for independent British cinema. With funding cut to the UK Film Council (one of the primary bodies for film investment in the UK) these past few years have been a rather bleak period for moving image this side of the pond. As a worker in the industry myself, I always rejoice a little when something British comes along with a budget, however paltry, and I actually followed Screwed as it was being produced. It certainly has potential; based on the best-selling British novel by Ronnie Thompson it was directed by current British hotshot Reg Traviss (helmer of Joy Division) and contains a whole host of British faces that you€™ll likely have seen repeatedly on the British terrestrial channels. Screwed tells the semi-autobiographical story of novel author Ronnie Thompson and his experiences while working in some of the UK€™s worst prisons. Upon returning from a tour of duty in Iraq, ex-squaddie Sam Norwood (James D€™Arcy) finds that the only lines of work open to him are either dealing drugs or a career in the British prison system; showing an early strength of will he opts for the latter. But when on the inside he starts to crack under the constant pressure of duress from the inmates, bent screws and a self-serving governor. Falling into a spiralling pit of depression he turns to alcohol and drugs in order to cope but this only leads to further woes. As paranoia sets in, he starts to suspect a fellow guard of conspiring with the cons, a betrayal that he denies- but everything may not be exactly as it seems. Screwed admittedly has an interesting premise at the root, albeit nothing that hasn€™t been previously explored (try Scum as a definitive prison drama) but it€™s actual plot descends into the nonsensical at times, despite been derived from a nugget of truth. Sam is arrested and put under investigation, for example, when accused of assaulting a prisoner even though we€™ve previously witnessed his innocence. But when he unloads his anger onto one of the cons in front of everyone, there are no following consequences. There are a few moments like this peppered throughout Screwed that underneath their surface intensity pose more questions than they answer. That being said, I suppose Screwed is intended to be character driven, in which case the actual plot (the events in-world) arguably aren€™t as important as the story (the protagonist€™s emotional journey through said events). All the hallmarks of a character driven narrative are there; only a few intimate locations; a focus on the emotional state of the protagonist and characters usually reacting to other characters as opposed to some conflict thrown at them by the plot. True there are moments throughout Screwed where Sam teeters over the genuinely interesting but he€™s ultimately too scarcely drawn in the script to be considered so. Without a truly cohesive plot, he€™s relied upon to carry the brunt of the narrative, but we€™re never made to care enough about him for Screwed to be a triumphant character driven drama. You might remember lead actor James D€™Arcy from Peter Weir€™s Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World. He€™s great at conveying a sense of false discipline - steely on the outside but shaking like a child internally €“ and he can cry on cue which is a must here. Unfortunately the seemingly weak writing forces him into dramatic corners whereby he nails the characters emotional state even when the script doesn€™t. There€™s a scene in which Sam breaks down in tears in front of his estranged wife (Kate Magowan) €“ both actors perform admirably but the dialogue guffs out cliché after clich這 (€œI€™m right here, I€™m not going anywhere€ and more to that effect which, let€™s face it, is of British Soap Opera quality). Backing up D€™Arcy is a slew of British names, with notable performances from Jamie Foreman (Layer Cake) who plays Sam€™s commanding officer and Frank Harper (Football Factory) who turns the dishevelled, cocaine-addled fellow guard Deano with his characteristic air of insidious aggression. Noel Clarke (Centurion, Doctor Who) plays the most influential of all the prisons convicts but again the script betrays him by giving him lines of dialogue that know too much about the emotional state of the protagonist, as if the character himself had read the script. Screwed isn€™t the worst British film by a huge margin, but it€™s nowhere near the top of the pile either. There are scenes throughout which contain considerable dramatic power, mainly through the first act and bleeding into to the second, when Norrington starts to settle in as a screw. Ultimately though, the script seems to lose control of itself throughout the latter portion of the second and most of the third act. Its main problem is that it doesn€™t seem to be sure exactly what it wants to be; is it a character driven story? Well not exactly, although it does bear massive similarities to one. Is it plot driven? Not exactly either, although toward the final scenes Sam is reacts only to a suddenly emerging, but clumsy, convoluted plot. In short, it€™s something of a conceptual mess; both too haphazard to be artful and too thoughtful to be popcorn fodder.

Quality

One of Screwed€™s most redeeming features is in its visual transfer. It€™s not the finest, don€™t get me wrong, but it definitely pushes over the above average mark. Presented in a full AVC-encoded 1080p (in a cinematic widescreen 2.39:1 aspect ratio) it€™s nice and crisp for the most part. Colour is well mixed, heavily bleached to convey the film€™s bleak tone. Having said that, definition can suffer from time to time and the presence of image altering Blu-ray authoring effects can be seen if you€™re sitting up close but for the most part the visual experience is satisfying. Screwed has a less than perfect sound mix. It isn€™t terrible seventy per cent of the time but when it gets to its most clumsy (usually around the scenes in which the ambient sounds of a restless prison dominate to mix) characters€™ dialogue can be lost in a sea of incomprehensible cockney. As I said though, this isn€™t in every scene and usually all of the elements in the sound mix behave satisfactorily.

Special Features

There is only one extra feature to this release as far as I€™m concerned: a series of interviews with various cast and crew on different aspects of Screwed€™s production. They may be split into individual interviews on the disc (probably to give the impression that there€™s more than there is) but that doesn€™t necessarily constitute multiple extras. And it only takes a quick look through one of them to realise that interviews, without some sort of narrative documentary around them, are pretty boring. In a nutshell€ Film €“ 2.5/5 Screwed has an interesting idea at its core but then again so does communism. And like communism, it just doesn€™t really work. It has trouble deciding what it wants to be; a character or plot driven story and as such it never really hits full speed with either. It houses some admirable performances and it€™s always great to see a British film get even a fraction of the budget that Screwed did (roughly £1.5 Million), but ultimately I can€™t help but feel you€™re going to be left wanting. Quality €“ 3/5 A nice enough visual transfer that remains true to its theatrical pressing. Grain is consistently throughout, perfectly balanced between too much and too little but there are some issues with mastering effects throughout (mainly edge enhancement). The sound mix can get a little choppy, especially when there are multiple characters interacting but for the most part it presents its up to scratch in its audio presentation. Presentation €“ 3/5 The cinematic poster which covers the box is nice enough, although it does present an unrealistically sleek tone. Upon insertion of the disc, you€™ll be greeted by the same image (...lazy) as a disc menu, along with your standard option buttons along the bottom. The worst thing about this menu by a long shout is the track that€™s played over the top €“ a cheesy WWE style rock tune that has an entirely opposing tone to the movie to follow. Value €“ 2.5/5 Roughly in the mid-range price bracket, I€™m struggling to see the worth of this movie on Blu-ray. Fans of the genre will no doubt get enough of a kick to justify it, but if movies in general are your poison then I don€™t think you€™ll be blown away. Combine this with a less than perfect audio/visual transfer and dire special features and what do you get? A rental at best. Overall €“ 2.5/5 Screwed isn€™t without its merits, but they don€™t necessarily outweigh its flaws. The scale sits somewhere in the middle; it never truly offends but it never truly impresses either. With some decent performances (and some poor ones), the film itself is let down by a markedly poor and indecisive script. It€™s worth a watch if you€™re into your British indie cinema, but it€™s definitely not worth a night in the cells. Screwed is out now on Blu-ray.
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Stuart believes that the pen is mightier than the sword, but still he insists on using a keyboard.