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Taking, The
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by Jay Seaver

"Lean, mean and surprisingly entertaining."
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2015 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: There are movies that offer stronger lessons on why a film should not have a flash-forward to nearly the end unless there's a really clever twist to be revealed than "The Taking" (aka "Bait"), as indicated by the fact that it winds up pretty good despite more or less laying out where it will go at the start. Besides, even if this this preview is more or less useless narratively, you can see how it might be useful in other ways, holding out the promise of enough skin and blood that the person who selected it on their streaming service might stick around for eighty fairly entertaining minutes rather than jump to something else.

It takes place in a Yorkshire town that is seeing hard times. Si (Adam Fogerty), a collection agent for, shall we say, non-bank loans, is stopping in to see just about everyone, while Jeremy (Jonathan Slinger) is also making a living as a representative of an organization offering debt relief. Meanwhile, the best friends operating a pastry kiosk in the local marketplace are looking to move into a proper shop, but a loan is proving hard to secure - not only are times tough, but Dawn (Joanne Mitchell) is often preoccupied with her autistic 18-year-old son and Eastern European mother (Rula Lenska), while Bex (Victoria Smurfit) has the sort of sharp tongue that drives away the people her plentiful cleavage draws in once they get too annoying. Fortunately, Jeremy and Dawn seem to hit it off when he visits their counter...

With a short running time and a predestined finale, there's not a whole lot of doubt as to where things are going to go. Even taking those expectations into account, the script by Paul Roundell still seems surprisingly thin, with a side-plot about Jeremy's daughter being bullied at school that seems to go nowhere and seems to fit in even worse when the film gets into a really ugly rut of Bex and Dawn being under the constant threat (frequently shown not to be idle) of violence for not repaying a nonexistent loan. It's often a tough enough watch that I won't blame more sensitive souls for bailing on the movie - as much as I think Roundell and director Dominic Brunt seem to want to connect the predation of loan sharks and those inclined to commit violence against women, they don't do much more than show someone doing both, again and again, without much insight into how this sort of man gains power by making everyone too afraid for themselves to even consider helping those in similar situations. Demonstration comes awful close to exploitation there.

It's grim and unimaginative subject matter, which is why it's such a pleasant surprise that the cast makes it worth watching anyway. Victoria Smurfit, in particular, is a hoot as Bex - she's not averse to using her body to get someone's attention in a competitive world despite having a hair trigger to slap down anyone who thinks that's an offer; she's also got a temper that manifests itself as funny but often self-sabotaging sarcasm. Smurfit's got the skill to make Bex abrasive or a cut-up with a pretty small variation in her delivery, and dangerous when it comes time to focus her anger. She and Joanne Mitchell do a nice job of making their characters' friendship a long-lasting but rocky one, as despite their evident history and genuine affection, they don't really understand each other's challenges and disappointments that well. Where Smurfit gets to launch jabs as Bex, Dawn has to show Dawn as accepting pressure, often frustrated by those she loves most despite never having a thought of abandoning them. It's an interesting contrast with Rula Lenska, similarly working-class and more thickly-accented but showing a certain freedom because there's little pressure on her.

And then there's Jonathan Slinger, who is if nothing else interesting as Jeremy. The Jeremy he sells at the beginning is a guy the audience can like fairly readily, funny and sweet and perfectly suited for what he seems to be. When his dark side comes out, Slinger tears into it, although always making sure that even at his fiercest, there's always something there's always the instinctive doubt that such a modest-looking guy could contain such malice. It sometimes feels like overacting - perhaps more than half the time- but there are just enough occasions that it clicks that a rotten soul won't always have a well-labeled vessel that he becomes legitimately scary.

Brunt and his crew do a few interesting things, although mostly they seem to stay out of the way. They don't try to create excessive mood, for instance, tending to shoot straight-on and preferring to hide something that may threaten a character completely off-screen than in shadows. Much of the film is shot in a clear light meant to reveal everything, with establishing shots often having a bright ray of light illuminating some part of the landscape, as if to say that Jeremy, Si, and the likes are right out there in the open rather than hiding.

It's just clever and potentially cathartic enough to outweigh the sadistically violent streak that the film has, and maybe wonder why Victoria Smurfit never got a breakout movie role before now. I suspect that many will find it too much or too little, as it's a lean and mean piece of work, but those are the qualities that others will find its virtues.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=29261&reviewer=371
originally posted: 08/10/15 21:23:01
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2015 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2015 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.

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Directed by
  Dominic Brunt

Written by
  Paul Roundell

Cast
  Victoria Smurfit
  Adam Fogerty
  Rula Lenska
  Jonathan Slinger
  Andrew Dunn



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