TRESPASS AGAINST US
Director: Adam Smith
Cast: Michael Fassbender, Brendan Gleeson, Lyndsey Marshal, Georgie Smith, Rory Kinnear, Killian Scott, Sean Harris, Kingsley Ben-Adir, Kacie Anderson, Gerard Kearns, Tony Way, Barry Keoghan, Ezra Khan, Alan Williams
MPAA Rating: (for pervasive language, some disturbing behavior and brief graphic nudity)
Running Time: 1:39
Release Date: 1/20/17 (limited)
Review by Mark Dujsik | January 19, 2017
The scope of Chad Cutler's (Michael Fassbender) world is limited. He has his extended family of Irish nomads, which includes people to whom he isn't even related, who live on a remote campsite in England, isolated by the surrounding forest from the rest of the world. He leaves this place on occasion—to bring his two kids to school, to buy cigarettes, to look for a home for his immediate family, to perform jobs for his father. Even then, though, he is only going to the nearby town, and when he arrives, he meets the same people over and over again. All of these people know him or know of him, and what they know about him isn't good.
The people who know Chad also know that he's a criminal, even if he has never been charged for any crime. The people who know of him mostly know his family name. They know that name because it belongs to his father, who is known and feared throughout this town. There's a small but powerful sphere of knowledge and influence in Trespass Against Us, and despite his desire to escape that circle, Chad is the focal point of it.
From his vantage point at that center, the circle is the extent of what he can see. It's like his father Colby (Brendan Gleeson) taught him: The world is flat. Colby believes that because his own father told him. That father came to the conclusion because, even while sitting at the top of the tallest tree he could find, everything of the world he could see was flat. The only thing that matters in this life is what a person can see—what a person knows.
Such lessons get passed down without question or challenge in a place such as this one, where everyone lives in a close-knit circle and within the actual circle of the campsite, where several trailer houses are what they have chosen—or have been forced by circumstances—to call home. Colby told Chad. Chad was supposed to tell his son Tyson (Georgie Smith), but Tyson, unlike his father, has been going to school. Colby decides that it's up to him to pass this information on to his grandson. Thus, the circle of knowing what is and isn't important in this world continues without end.
Alastair Siddons' screenplay amounts to a constant tug of war between Chad's desire to break that circle—if not for himself, then at least for his wife Kelly (Lyndsey Marshal) and their two children (A mostly silent younger daughter is played by Kacie Anderson)—and the circumstances that are weighed against his fulfillment of that desire. Everything is loaded against Chad. He has no other place to live. He has found a place in town, but the man who owns the property refuses to sell it to Chad without Colby's blessing, lest the owner feels his wrath.
Even though Chad has come to question his father's ways, the old man is still a threat. Chad's brother is in prison after following Colby's orders, and any attempt to go against those orders is met with a threat of violence or murder.
It doesn't help that Tyson is of an age at which he will question his dad. Chad makes his kids go to school. Tyson doesn't like school. The kid's grandfather tells the boy that school is useless. Obviously, given the choice, the kid likes his grandpa more than his demanding father. When the grandfather suggests that Tyson might be able to do a job for him one day, the boy seems eager to get started.
Chad is trapped. Under these conditions, Colby gives his son another job: the robbery of a country estate. The police are quick to respond (The movie has a pair of car chases that emphasize the reckless, nothing-to-lose attitude of its characters). The theft becomes national news, because they have stolen from an important government official.
The push and pull—of Chad pushing against his father and of the total of his life pulling him back into that life—is the drama here. It's effective because Siddons and director Adam Smith understand that Colby's flat-earth philosophy isn't just some empty belief. It's a recognition of the reality of these lives—lived in poverty, relying on each other for a sense of security, not only unable to escape Colby but also, to an extent, unwilling to do so because of what he has provided for them (Gleeson pulls off a tricky character, who shifts, almost without prompting, from religious fanatic to affable grandfather to gangster tough guy).
It's inevitable that there will come a reckoning for Chad. There are the predictable options: He either will escape or won't. The first option is something of a fantasy, and the second is something of a tragedy. What can be said is that Siddons decides upon neither of the predictable choices but orchestrates matters in such a way as to attempt to achieve both results. This means that there comes a point in Trespass Against Us at which the characters start to behave in ways that seem illogical—both in terms of what we know about them as characters and what we've learned about this secluded society. As a result, the movie's final impression feels false.
Copyright © 2017 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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