Perhaps benefiting somewhat from low expectations after 2006’s Kidulthood arguably glamorised gang violence in favour of soap opera melodrama for the teen set and 2008’s follow-up Adulthood indulged in some embarrassingly on-the-nose racial satire, Noel Clarke’s third go-around is the sturdiest and most mature of the three, a sure compliment even with the bar set pretty low.
Sam Peel (Clarke) now lives a world away from his former existence as a young criminal, having settled down and working hard to provide for his wife and two children. However, when his brother ends up wounded by gunshot, Sam has to dig deep into his past to get to the bottom of it, and keep those close to him safe once and for all.
Clarke has, with a sure degree of self-consciousness, taken a narrative more recently better-suited for superheroes and spies and transposed it onto the inner-city crime scene, of a former gunslinger desperate to leave his old ways behind but finding himself inexorably dragged back to violence for the greater good. While it’s not the most original of material, Brotherhood does see Clarke grow as a creative talent; that he himself is now a father has no doubt influenced a narrative deeply rooted in the importance of family, and while the pic still doesn’t want for outrageousness, it nevertheless feels more organic and grounded than what came before.
Yes, there’s a lot of silliness here to compliment the family drama and not all of it works, but Clarke also manages to combine the urban grit with some campy flourishes that work in the film’s favour, in so much as making it implicitly clear that he’s in on the joke. The aching self-seriousness of the previous movies is dialed back and, while not all the humour totally works, it at least ensures there’s some tonal balance to keep things from getting too morbid.
Seeing how the streets have changed over the last decade may be a jarring experience for those in the same age bracket as Clarke, and the film makes good on that disparity; Sam, in approximately his mid-thirties, is considered a dinosaur and a relic by the up-and-coming teens looking to fill his old spot. Again, not a particular new or imaginative theme, but shot home well enough, particularly when the young’uns mock him for using the “blud” salutation.
Those who “grew up” with the previous two films will likely find plenty of resonance in a second sequel that has percolated and matured before being unleashed upon audiences; this is probably the best time to tell this story, and it’s also probably the best time to bring this inconceivable franchise to an end. It’s not without its absurdities, but it feels much truer and much surer of what it wants to be. Clarke may be incredibly hit-and-miss as a filmmaker, but there’s a persuasive, occasionally shockingly visceral power to the urban nightmare played out here.
Brotherhood is in UK cinemas now