Introductions first. For the uninitiated (including this reviewer) meet Rapman, aka Andrew Onwubolu, the British rapper, music producer, writer and more latterly film director. He’s made his name through YouTube, particularly a three part series, Shiro’s Story, which amassed an enviable 20 million views since the first instalment appeared last year. Rapman himself narrated the majority of the story through rapping, in the same way that he does in Blue Story, his first feature film.
Based on his YouTube series of the same name from 2014, this is set partly on his home turf of Deptford and partly in Peckham, centring on warfare between gangs from the neighbourhoods. In this world, amongst the young men of the communities, where you comes from determines exactly who you are and whose side you’re on, even if you don’t necessarily want it that way. Timmy (Stephen Odubala) tries his hardest not to get involved in the postcode war, even though he has a foot in both camps – he goes to school in Peckham and lives in Deptford. It doesn’t work. A childhood friend beats up Timmy’s closest mate, Marco (Micheal Ward). Then matters come to a head when his girlfriend Leah (Karla-Simone Spence) tries to put a stop to another beating …..
In essence, this is a classic, even conventional, morality tale, about two friends torn apart by gang warfare, and underlined by Rapman as narrator. His rapped commentary acts almost as a lament for the killed and injured in the crime wave, with him sounding like a latter day Greek chorus, but while it’s a promising concept, he falls short of making use of its full potential. Admittedly, it’s probably intended for the film’s target audience, but his moments are too infrequent to have any consistency and, when we do hear from him, he adds little to the action, simply paraphrasing what’s gone before. What works, though, is the tone: heartfelt and heartbreaking and all the more so because of the direct, punchy language.
It has rawness and energy which aren’t just confined to the narration: they permeate the film but prove to be a double edged sword. On the plus side is the cast, especially the young actors in the lead roles, who give committed performances. Odubala is striking as Timmy and his scenes with Spence as his girlfriend have a genuinely convincing tenderness. The main characters are written strongly enough to make them distinctive: if only that extended to the supporting characters who are less developed and come close to merging into something of a background blur. The portrayal of the streets of Peckham and Deptford is equally vibrant, as is Rapman’s directing style, but his inexperience shows in a film that is, essentially, rough round the edges.
For now Blue Story looks like exactly what it is – a debut feature by a talented director and performer with a bright cinematic future ahead of him. It has its faults, sure, but it gets by on that energy and the authenticity of its setting, as well as its emotional portrayal of devastating personal impact of gang warfare on the families of the killed and injured. Rapman knows what he wants to say. He just needs to polish the way he says it. If he chooses to stick with directing, we should be seeing and hearing a lot from him in the future.
Crime, Thriller, Drama | Cert: 15 | Paramount Pictures | UK, 22 November 2019 | Dir. Rapman | Stephen Odubola, Micheal Ward, Karla-Simone Spence, Eric Kofi-Abrefa, Kadeem Ramsay.Powered by Sidelines