Given that documentary filmmaker Dominic Savage has numerous awards for his work, it’s unsurprising that he should choose to helm his legit playwriting debut, “Fear.” Although his production is notably well achieved in technical terms, he does himself few favors in most other respects; his anatomization of greed — the haves vs. the have-nots — is as urgent as it is threatening (i.e., very) but is marred by lumbering pacing. Audiences will remain either way ahead of the action or unconvinced by writing in which good intentions outstrip dramatic achievement.
Savage sets up two plot strands. In one, Kieran (a taunting, jousting Aymen Hamdouchi) and his partner in crime, Jason (Jason Maza), use an “American Psycho”-esque worship of labels and wealth indicators to size up people they can mug, their crimes motivated by fierce resentment. Robbing and lying is both the way they live and their own private high.
They’re contrasted with wealthy married couple Gerald (shiny-suited Rupert Evans) and Amanda (Louise Delamere), whose behavior is too predictably chilly. Amanda is pregnant and, in a succession of increasingly awkward short scenes, is beginning to question their morality. Gerald patronizes her with vacation offers while devoting far more attention to an investment deal he’s about to make that will net them £12 million (roughly $19 million).
From the moment that Ed Clarke’s taut, haunting string score booms out of the darkness, it’s horribly clear that these strands will mesh in an unhappy way. But with both sides of the equation riskily schematic, even the skilled actors cannot sufficiently energize the overextended silences in the text. Savage and his design team create an air of sickening inevitability, but it’s too repetitive and unleavened to deliver truly satisfying tension.
Halfway through, Savage reveals another side to his dramaturgy with a series of unexpected confrontations. Initially welcome though his social conscience is, the play degenerates into a series of lessons to be taught, and its ideological points are not backed up by convincing character development. Isolated moments in which characters examine the errors of their ways sit uneasily with the long-winded naturalism that led them (and the audience) to this position.
Legit directors who move into movies often fall so dangerously in love with closeups that the actors become overstretched. Savage has precisely the reverse problem; robbed of closeups, he leaves the actors marooned in the space, without sufficient subtext or developing action to anchor them. There’s enormous sincerity from all the cast members, especially Hamdouchi, who shines in the sequences that require him to display bravado. But the urgency of the argument is undercut by the thinness of the texture.