In 2006, Noel Clarke made his screenwriting debut with Kidulthood. Two years later, he directed its sequel, Adulthood – and now, eight years after that, he’s made the third and final entry in the west London crime saga, Brotherhood.
When the first instalment came out a decade ago, it was a breath of fresh air, with frank depictions of sex and violence that may have struck some critics as exploitative. To many, however, it signified the verisimilitude of Clarke’s approach, painting a vivid portrait of adolescence. While Adulthood was tighter than its predecessor, it nevertheless gave the impression that Clarke didn’t have much more to say and was simply indulging his vanity and the marketability of the franchise with a sequel.
We’re on similar ground with Brotherhood, putting us back in company with Sam Peel (Clarke). Having once killed a man with a baseball bat and served a prison sentence for it, Sam’s a reformed man, with a supermarket job and a family to provide for. The past comes back to haunt him when local gangsters begin targeting his family in an effort to bring him on board with their operation, only to torment him when he refuses. Old faces re-emerge, and Sam has to take action again if he wants to live in peace.
The highlights of the film come during conversations, which walk a fine line between grit and humour. Clarke’s still good at writing teenage banter but also demonstrates an understanding of the nuances of age. When we see that Alisa (Red Madrell) is now the mother of a confident teenager, it’s a bit like we’re watching Boyhood, albeit directed by Guy Ritchie.
Elsewhere, though, silliness and misogyny run rampant. At one point, Sam stumbles onto a sex-slave business run by “Daley” (a scenery-chewing Jason Maza), and Clarke uses it as an excuse to have naked, big-breasted women strutting about on screen as much as possible. Other female roles are thankless and lacking in agency – one can scarcely remember the commanding presence of Jaime Winstone’s Becky two films ago. The focus is all on Clarke, who’s now making films with the gloss of a Hollywood production, but one suspects he’s lost the grounded approach that made his early work so watchable. For that, Brotherhood and all its moments, says little we haven’t heard before and is a film that will satisfy the fans only.
Brotherhood is released nationwide on 2nd September 2016.
Watch the trailer for Brotherhood here: