Ever since Ben Wheatley's feature debut started shouldering its way through the festival circuit, his lo-fi Brit-crime tale has repeatedly earned the same complimentary comparison: "It's The Sopranos meets Mike Leigh." Granted, the film's ability to make you feel as if you're having a cuppa with working-class punters would make the Vera Drake director beam, and the suburban criminal clan's microempire shares similarities with the HBO show's famiglia business. But the differences are what's key: Leigh's slices of life rarely, if ever, use genre trappings to achieve such tense, terse frisson. And David Chase's series detailed how the outside world breaks down the family unit; this muted mobster story reminds us that the ties that bind can also gag you, garrote you and slowly deaden your soul.
Never mind the Italian-American Cosa Nostra dramatics and U.K. kitchen-sink elements; Down Terrace's real ancestry is Greek tragedy. Dad (Robert Hill) is less worried about the rat in his Brighton-based organization than what impending fatherhood will do to his sociopathic second-in-command son (cowriter Robin Hill). Mom (Deakin, phenomenal) spends as much time undermining her boy's pregnant girlfriend as she does plotting power plays, Lady Macbeth--style. Implosion is imminent, and not even the blackly comic interludes featuring the mocking of homicidal dimwits---call it "Coen-descension"---dull the caustic bite once the movie starts putting the blood into blood relations. Wheatley has mastered playing disparate styles off of each other, but more important, he understands how kin can be both sustaining and smothering---and how to tell an age-old story in a manner that's not only stunning, but sui generis.
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