Involving drama is impeded by well-intentioned earnestness in the sincere class meditation “Born Equal.” Pic about the fates of various transient residents of a London homeless facility feels too soft-spoken for aggressive theatrical play, suggesting tube shelters and a modicum of vid salvation.
Recently sprung jailbird Robert (Robert Carlyle, low-key) is plot’s entree to an urban bleak house where every sparse apartment houses a story of yearning and hope. Haunted by the apparently spur-of-the-moment stabbing that prompted his incarceration, Carlyle begins a mysteriously aggressive courtship of newly arrived Michelle (Anne-Marie Duff), battered and pregnant, even as he searches the city for the mother from whom he’s apparently estranged.
Meanwhile, boundlessly rich businessman Mark (Colin Firth, intense) begins to feel that money isn’t everything. After a confrontation with an angry homeless man results in massive guilt, he begins spending long evenings away from his pregnant wife Laura (Emilia Fox) to minister to those less fortunate than himself. This leads him to troubled 17-year-old runaway Zoe (Nichola Burley) and an emotional entanglement to which there is no satisfactory answer.
Finally, Nigerian maid Itshe (Nikki Amuka-Bird) makes a fateful decision to fund her imperiled father-in-law’s visa to escape persecution at home, only to lose the respect of her husband Yemi (David Oyelowo) and the trust of her condescending yet well-meaning employer.
Robert and Mark finally cross paths in a random, violent encounter. There’s precious little redemption to be had for any of these tortured souls.
Though dignified and focused, helmer Dominique Savage’s well-modulated screenplay lacks any raw tension or explosive surprises that might spring from class inequality or the peril of mean streets. This lends each story a schematic inevitability that leeches the whole of any lasting resonance. In the end, pic is just too polite.
Carlyle does the best he can with a character whose mysteries are never fully explained, while Firth’s Mark would be a beacon of liberal initiative were he not so gruff and stuffy. Duff gives the pic’s most satisfying perf as a frightened mother determined to escape abuse.
Tech package is crisp and clean.