Yardie review: Idris Elba presents his first directorial effort – a crime drama based on the 1992 novel of the same name.

Yardie review by Paul Heath.

Yardie review
Yardie review

There’s no denying that Idris Elba is a fine, accomplished actor – possibly even one who is yet to reach the top of his game – but this debut dance as a feature director lacks substance and emotional investment from its audience to really pack a punch.

We open in 1970s Jamaica, an all-out gun war in progress between two rival gangs, an event which leads to a child being caught in the crossfire, needlessly killed during a daylight battle. We know a lot about the two gangs because of Aml Ameen’s voiceover as our main protagonist, D. D’s brother Jerry Dread (Evaraldo Creary) is fed up with the violence, so takes it upon himself to try and heal the rift between them by staging a local concert to try and bring the leads of the gangs together. This all ends tragically when, after the two kingpins shake hands, Jerry winds up dead after being shot by a member of the crowd. This is all witnessed by D, who tags along to the event despite being warned away earlier by his older brother. Fast forward ten years later and we see that the war is long over, D now in his twenties and working under the remaining crime lord King Fox (Sheldon Shepherd), now a music producer and sometime drug dealer. D has seemingly chosen the wrong path in life following the events from the previous decade, though still strives to locate the killer of his beloved brother. After causing a major upset for his new employer and apparent father figure, D is sent to London until things blow over back home, his task to deliver a bag of cocaine to a London dancehall owner, Rico (Stephen Graham).

It is in London where we find D has a wife and daughter, both of whom have crossed the Atlantic to make a better life, but after the drug transaction goes south, D finds himself trapped in a very dangerous situation, one which could threaten his family and his business relations back in Jamaica.

Yardie is based up on the 1990s novel of the same name by Victor Headley, screenwriters Brock Norman Brock and Martin Stellman (who have Bronson and For Queen and Country amongst their previous credits) and director Elba choosing to assemble their film Goodfellas style – think hip music, freeze frames and that voice over. This is obviously a formula that works, and it largely does here, and the film works. The cast are largely excellent, the stand outs being Ameen as our primary protagonist and Shepard as his dodgy mentor. Stephen Graham is also having fun as a mini-Scarface, albeit one who blends cheeky cockney with Jamaican Patois. He’s great.

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The film moves swiftly, the editing tight and well-constructed, and the visuals from cinematographer John Conroy, who also has Oscar Wilde film The Happy Prince also playing in Berlin, stunning. The music is, of course, excellent and well placed, and the authenticity of the story spot on – subtitles are provided in English throughout.The issue with the film is keeping up with the many characters employed in the narrative. Some come and go all too briefly, and some aren’t given enough screen time for us to have all that much investment in them, which is a shame because I really wanted to like Elba’s first foray into directing. There’s no real depth to the story, and while glossy and well-finished, an asset that should pull in an audience, particularly with Elba’s gravitas, doe not a great movie make on their own.

That said, there is something about Yardie – not a small, straight forward film to helm in the slightest – which shows what could come should Elba choose to direct anything in the future. As it stands, Yardie is still an effort well worth checking out, just don’t bank on it staying in your thoughts for long after you leave the multiplex.

Yardie review by Paul Heath, February 2018.

Yardie was reviewed at the 2018 Berlin International Film Festival. It is still awaiting a UK release.