With his autistic brother at his shoulder, accompanied by the wistful strum of Smog’s ‘Vessel in Vain’ and cine-cam childhood memories, Paddy Considine’s grizzly wayfarer wends his way down fields and country lanes in the preamble to Meadows’ latest rummage through English small-time masculine values; the pastoral tranquility barely ruffled by the steady purpose of his stride. It’s a nonchalant image that only retrospectively conjures the ghosts of Harry Dean Stanton emerging from the desert in ‘Paris, Texas’, Clint riding into town in ‘High Plains Drifter’, or even the homecomings of Hamlet or Richard Lionheart… Something is rotten in a Midlands village, though from initial appearances it runs no deeper than the petty drug-dealing, porn and Pot Noodles that characterise the lives of local goons Herbie, Soz, Tuff and Sonny. Considine busts their chops, steals their stash and daubs taunts on their walls before they have time to figure out who he could be; even when they do, they don’t realise quite how scared they should be.
A gritted antithesis to ‘Once Upon a Time in the Midlands’, Meadows’ and co-writer Considine’s stripped-down revenge drama similarly transposes western archetypes to the modest back-cloth of their local manor, but to much more serious intent: male fecklessness is viewed through a far darker lens, and redemption is in short supply. It’s a fascinating project, in terms of both its technique and ambition, and gloriously watchable: working with a young cinematographer (Danny Cohen) and a triumvirate of editors, Meadows has raised his visual craft to the level of his dexterity with actors, while Considine is as striking as lightning. Where the film stumbles is at the behavioural level; at least the hoodlums are the soul of shallowness, and the denouement makes a sudden leap of brutality. But better that than pat.