A kind of “Taffy and Leek-Head Do Swansea,” but with a murderously black, Brit-nihilistic edge, “Twin Town” is an often funny, highly original comedy that looks set to divide opinion with its amoral attitude and expletive-laden script. Though first-time director Kevin Allen doesn’t bring to the table quite the finished technique that his concept deserves, there are enough wild ideas and rich performances kicking around here to delight viewers prepared to go along with it. Commercial chances for the movie — exec produced by the “Trainspotting” team of Andrew Macdonald and Danny Boyle — may well be richer in Europe than the U.S.
Pic split auds at its Sundance unspooling, with some tuning in to its dark comedy and others finding the dialogue and nonchalant attitude toward violence over-boiled. Re-voicing of some of the thick Welsh accents may also be in order for North Americans. Though breakout business on a “Trainspotting” level is not indicated, the movie looks likely to perform warmly in the U.K., where it opens April 11; its reception at the Berlin fest, where it competes Feb. 18, will be crucial for continental Europe.
Upbeat title sequence, to the strains of Petula Clark singing the ’60s classic “The Other Man’s Grass Is Always Greener,” introduces the setting of Swansea — a borderline-dreary seaside town in southern Wales — with traveling shots of landscapes and locals. This is the town that Dylan Thomas once described as an “ugly lovely town,” but which one of the pic’s characters rechristens “pretty, shitty city.”
We soon find out why, as the movie’s first half-hour intros a spread of slackers and lowlifes who look as if they’ve stepped out of a Mike Leigh pic on heroin. On one side of the social divide, living in a particularly grotty trailer park, is the Lewis family: Rosy-cheeked dad, Fatty (Hugh Ceredig), is a handyman; his daughter, Adie (Rachel Scorgie), is a slutty receptionist at a massage parlor; and sons Jeremy and Julian (real-life brothers Rhys Ifans and Llyr Evans) are drugged-out psychopaths who “borrow” any expensive autos they can lay their hands on.
Repping Swansea’s social elite is the Cartwright family, headed by business kingpin Bryn (William Thomas), who plays with model trains when not organizing drug deals; his tightly wound wife, Lucy (Sue Roderick), who dotes on her pet poodle; and their spoiled daughter, Bonny (Jenny Evans), who has aspirations to be a singer. Somewhere in the social middle ground are two bent cops, bruiser Terry (Dougray Scott) and more sensitive Greyo (Dorien Thomas), who are both deep in Bryn’s pocket.
Opening reels are fairly leisurely, with several of the characters introduced in oblique fashion, but there’s enough passing humor in the dialogue, characterization and overall quirky tone for this not to matter. The plot kicks in around the 30-minute mark, when Fatty falls off a ladder when doing a roofing job for Bryn and the latter steadfastly refuses to pay any compensation.
What follows is essentially a series of increasingly serious reprisals as each side determines to save face and better the other. The war starts comically enough with Fatty’s sons urinating over Bryn’s daughter while she’s competing in a karaoke contest; things turn a shade darker when, after Bryn has had the cops work the brothers over, the head of Lucy’s pet poodle turns up on her bed.
It’s the final half-hour of the movie — when both sides turn all-out murderous and the comedy turns from anarchic to tar-black — that some viewers may have trouble with. Though the plot strands are neatly tied together, there’s no redemption for any of the characters, nor any further revelations of psychological or social underpinnings to Jeremy and Julian’s nihilistic behavior. They’re basically just a couple of destructive hopheads, and viewers will either side with them or write them off, depending on personal viewpoint.
Allen, a former actor and documaker (mostly of pics centered on soccer), has made an acid love letter to his hometown. There’s a rough-edged look to the movie, with none of, say, “Trainspotting’s” elaborate visual design and controlled camerawork. The film is almost entirely driven by its colorful characters, who are well-etched by Pat Campbell’s on-the-nail production design and Rachael Fleming’s costumes — especially for Bryn and his family, whose money isn’t matched by their dress sense or home decor.
As the loony brothers, Ifans and Evans give performances that are so far under the skin of their characters as to be often terrifyingly real. William Thomas is solid as Bryn, and both Scott and Dorien Thomas give considerable substance to the diametrically different cops. All of the many subsidiary roles are exceptionally well cast.
Soundtrack includes good, sometimes ironic, use of almost 20 songs. John Mathieson’s lensing varies from the almost TV-docu-like to slightly stylized, and isn’t particularly well served by some garish processing in print caught.