22 May 2024
Read review for THE KITCHEN from Freda Cooper

Film Review – The Kitchen (2023)

Read review for THE KITCHEN from Freda Cooper
It’s a week when cinemas are looking to the near future – and the prospects aren’t great. The End We Start From sees Jodie Comer struggling against climate change catastrophe while, in The KitchenDaniel Kaluuya both steps behind the camera and co-writes the screenplay for a gritty urban tale set little more than 15 years away. It’s almost too close for comfort.

In 2040 social housing has been outlawed, leaving working people struggling to afford somewhere to live. The last such estate is The Kitchen, still thriving and with a vibrant community, but on the receiving end of police raids aimed at wiping it out completely. Izi (Kane Robinson) has grown up there and, after years of hard work, can now afford one of the luxurious apartments overlooking the ramshackle estate. He’s counting the days until he moves out until he discovers that his former girlfriend has died, leaving behind a 12 year old son, Benji (Jediaiah Bannerman). The boy needs a father figure, latches on to Izi and, while the two get to known each other, the pressure grows on the residents of The Kitchen as they band together to save their home.

For a moment, The Kitchen could be a prison drama. In the opening shot, Izi looks straight at the camera through a letterbox and seems to be locked in, trapped, and under siege. He’s all three, but in his own run-down flat and the police are outside trying to force out the residents. Judging by the nearby blocks of sleek apartments, there’s already a buyer ready to turn the estate into more profit. Through the eyes of Kaluuya (making his directorial debut) and Kibwe Tavares, this is a vision of London where gentrification has stopped being a trend and is now law, with The Kitchen as the last bastion of something approaching equality. And with the gulf between the rich and poor growing before our eyes, the political point isn’t hard to miss.

Kaluuya and fellow writer Joe Murtagh (Calm With Horses) have come up with a script where dialogue plays a secondary role. It’s blunt and sparse, with the emphasis on the visuals, which is one of the film’s biggest strengths. The crumbling estate is spectacular in all its chaotic, gaudy glory, a place of grim poverty but with a thriving community, held together by its own radio station, voiced by “Lord Kitchener” (an engaging Ian Wright). The police raids are panic-ridden and brutal enough to take place in a war zone.  And the central performances from Robinson and the young Bannerman give the narrative its heart and impetus: Bannerman especially is a real find as a boy floating from one possible role model to another in the hope of finding that all-too-elusive sense of home and security.

It’s a strong idea, one that makes you wonder how much the film is already mirroring reality, but it’s sadly let down in the final third when the story runs out of steam and relies too heavily on the raid sequences. Ultimately, it gives itself nowhere to go and, after such a build-up, all it leaves is a sense of emptiness. Not inappropriate but, under the circumstances, less than the film and its audience deserve.

★★★

Netflix from January 19th / Kane Robinson, Jediaiah Bannerman, Hope Ikopu Jnr, Teija Kabs, Demmy Ladipo, Ian Wright / Dirs: Kibwe Tavares, Daniel Kaluuya / Netflix / 15


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