Dir/scr: Justin Kerrigan.UK. 2009. 81mins.
A young boy goes through growing pains as he faces up to the truth about his deluded dad in downbeat British drama I Know You Know. Writer-director Justin Kerrigan scored a zeitgeist-friendly cult hit in theUKwith his 1999 rave drama Human Traffic, but he is unlikely to follow its success with this dramatically uneven, decidedly old-fashioned family vignette. A characteristically edgy performance by Robert Carlyle fuels Kerrigan’s very personal project, but the film gets into its stride too late to really hit a nerve. Drab visuals and a somewhat archaic TV-film feel will limit theatrical and export chances.
Set in Cardiff in 1988, the presumably autobiographical film is dedicated to director Kerrigan’s late father. A confusing opening section establishes Carlyle’s leather-jacketed, moustachioed character Charlie as some sort of freewheeling international secret agent, accompanied by his 11-year-old son Jamie (Fuller) and in contact with a mysterious figure known as Mr Fisher (Bradley).
Charlie takes his son to their new home, a run-down flat which he promises his son is only temporary: shortly, Jamie is assured, the pair will fly off to the US with a huge payoff in the bank.
The film keeps us guessing for a while about the real deal on gun-toting Charlie, who seems to be surveying the activities of a sinister cable TV company. But, as Jamie faces his own problems at school, the coin eventually drops that Charlie is a paranoid schizophrenic eager to draw his son into his own fantasy world.
For its first 45 minutes, the film fails to strike a convincing note of contrast between the skin-deep glamorous spy world of Charlie’s imaginings and the dreary kitchen-sink reality in which he and Jamie live - and it must be said that Cardiff has never looked drearier on film. The main problem is that Kerrigan never quite seems sure whether we’re seeing events from father’s or son’s point of view. It’s only when Charlie’s mental illness becomes fully apparent, and the film becomes Jamie’s story, that the audience is properly able to emotionally engage. At that point, too, Carlyle is able to exchange the nervy charm on which he coasts for the first hour for a considerably more nuanced depiction of the darker, lonelier end of the Walter Mitty spectrum.
Engaging newcomer Arron Fuller provides the film with a candid emotional focus, his Jamie at once innocent and pugnacious, and he proves he is worth keeping an eye on.
Overall, the film has a defiantly old-fashioned feel, resembling an older, more meat-and-potatoes strain of low-budget UK realism, not a million miles from the no-nonsense style of the work once produced by Britain ‘s long-defunct Children’s Film Foundation. Exuding integrity rather than style, I Know You Know never quite finds the core of emotional complexity and true-life pain of which it nevertheless offers tantalising glimpses.
The Little Film Company
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