The pure mechanics of revenge get a powerful workout in Brit drama “Straightheads,” in which a couple effects a grisly punishment that more than fits the crimes against their persons. Stripped-down low-budgeter, with no-nonsense lead perfs by Gillian Anderson and Danny Dyer, is too small — and lacking in sympathetic characters — to make a significant dent theatrically. But the April 27 Blighty release could reap solid returns on ancillary, especially if it hooks the genre crowd. Sony picked up North American rights at last fall’s AFM.
Writer-helmer Dan Reed, here making his full-fledged feature debut, won his spurs with several films centered on the psychology of violence in marginal societies, from Chechen-separatist docu “Terror in Moscow” to the Liverpool gang-world docudrama “Shooters.” Though “Straightheads” doesn’t go for a documentary look, its unfussy, almost procedural style, heightened by Chris Seager’s wintry leansing, isn’t deflected from its course by too much emotional angst or self-victimization.
Opening reels rapidly sketch an instant attraction between two seemingly ill-matched people — easygoing Cockney lad Adam (Dyer) and high-powered London yuppie Alice Comfort (Anderson). He’s installing a wireless security system in her smart pad, and she, dropping by to change her clothes for a party, invites him along to a swanky party at a country manse thrown by her boss, Misha (Anthony Byrne). Socially out of his depth, Adam is about to ankle when Alice drags him off into the woods for a quickie.
What looks like a cross-tracks one-night stand suddenly turns nasty when, on the way back, the cocky couple is set upon by a group of men who savagely beat Adam unconscious and then rape Alice.
Setup demands a leap of faith by the viewer but works on a genre level thanks to the hotsy screen chemistry between Dyer and Anderson — who play up their characters’ separate reasons for the sexual adventure — and the narrative momentum, which doesn’t leave much time for analysis. Thesps are especially good during the grim-dawn aftermath, as Adam lurches about with a swollen eye and Alice can hardly walk straight. Neither has ever experienced physical violence of this kind.
Bound by the experience, the bruised souls hole up in her apartment for a month before she eventually goes back to work. But Adam has been “un-manned” to the point of impotence and Alice, beneath her coolness, harbors revenge.
In the script’s biggest contrivance, a chance encounter gives Alice a lead on the perps, thanks to a man called Heffer (Anthony Calf), who lives nearby with his traumatized daughter, Sophie (Francesca Fowler). Adam’s skills in CCTV systems and Alice’s determined genes (her soldier father “didn’t believe in turning the other cheek”) unite in a bloody, “Straw Dogs”-style revenge.
Ultra-lean script plays as if adapted from a short story, with the focus entirely on the two leads and the story’s dramatic arc. At no time are the police ever seen, and though Adam is the voice of reason for a while, it’s clear from the start this isn’t a revenge drama that’s going to wimp out at the end.
Psychology only really makes sense on its own movie terms, and at the end of the day, pic has no message about either random violence or the ethics of revenge. But as a gritty genre exercise — rather than a slice of socially aware cinema — “Straightheads” pretty much works, despite contrived moments.Though her body language is still more American than English, Anderson is otherwise fine as Alice, with a flawlessly flat Estuary accent that says everything about the character. Dyer, recently in the Brit vigilante drama “Outlaw,” grabs a chance to go beyond his usual Cockney-lad screen persona.
Title, nowhere explained in the movie, is British gangland slang for people who aren’t involved in crime.