A coming-of-age story about skinheads in Thatcher-era Britain? Sounds like a throwaway skit on Saturday Night Live, but in the hands of writer/director Shane Meadows, it's soulful, sometimes hilarious, and probably adds up to one of the year's best movies. It works because Meadows, who himself went through some of the experiences depicted here, crafts all his characters - racist and violent or not - in three dimensions. Instead of delivering platitudes, the film quietly shows how organized hate thrives in the pressure-cooker of poverty, unemployment, and hopelessness.
Although produced on a low budget, This Is England amazingly sports the look and feel of the most polished Hollywood films in this first-class transfer. The rich color palette and gorgeous film grain set it immediately apart from typical DVD treatments of independent films. Gorgeous images of the decaying urban landscape bolster the story's sociopolitical perspective while adding just a touch of pathos to an essentially sad tale. The 5.1-channel soundtrack is fairly modest, with the huge exception of the perfectly chosen music - heavy on '80s reggae and ska - that elevates the movie to unexpected heights.
The extras put the film's period setting in welcome perspective. Very brief documentary and interview featurettes are nicely balanced by two onscreen essays that illuminate the skinheads (as well as other youth cultures of the time) and the Falklands War (which provides a foundation for the story). Eleven minutes of deleted scenes are unusually effective - as is a raucous commentary by Meadows, producer Mark Herbert, and teenage star Thomas Turgoose, who happily form a temporary gang of their own. [NR] English, Dolby Digital 5.1; letterboxed (1.78:1) and anamorphic widescreen; dual layer.
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