With heist pictures, there’s such a thing as giving away the store, explaining too much. That’s what happens with the gritty British thriller “Wasteland,” which is about some very young lads who set out to avenge themselves on a local lowlife who’s done them wrong. The movie drones on, well past a perfectly serviceable climax.
And all that extra time is spent delivering an alternate ending: a writer-director having his character explain how clever all this is.
Harvey (Luke Treadaway) is fresh out of prison, bloody in the face and sitting in front of a cop (Timothy Spall). There was a robbery. Something went wrong. And here Harvey is, giving a blow-by-blow of the brute of a bloke who framed him (Neil Maskell) and his best-laid plans for revenge. The interrogation frames the movie.
Harvey’s mates — the mama’s boy Charlie (Gerard Kerns), short-tempered Dodd (Matthew Lewis) and ladies’ man Dempsey (Iwan Rheon) — aren’t run-of-the-mill villains. They’re all Harvey’s age, 22 or so. And they may be dead-enders in terms of future prospects, but they’re not idiots.
When Harvey breaks to them “a business proposition put to me by a bloke inside” prison, they’re all ears. All they need is the cash for this business buy-in. To get that, Harvey has in mind burgling the club where his nemesis, Roper, hides his ill-gotten loot. They plot and plan the caper, which Harvey recounts in his interrogation with the cop.
There’s a girl (of course), Nicola (Vanessa Kirby), a working-class looker who spent time with both Harvey and with Roper. And there are all these odd elements to the heist which we really cannot put together until we see how things play out — both ways things play out.
Writer-director Rowan Athale creates a believable world for these folks to match wits in, and the players are convincingly working class — accents as thick as Marmite.
But Athale isn’t content to try and trip us up once or twice, doesn’t go for logical solutions to the puzzle and never quite reaches the razzamatazz of “Snatch” and “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels,” which plainly were his inspiration. “Wasteland” never gets up a good head of steam and is more dark than jaunty. Whatever rewards revenge offers, the consequences of merely thinking about it with a fellow as ruthless as Roper could be terminal.
“I don’t want to have to worry about you, Harvey,” he hisses. “I don’t react well when I think I’m threatened.”
“Wasteland” would work better if Harvey showed us a palpable sense of fear at that threat. But the structure of the movie, that long flashback, means it loses any dread for what’s coming.
And Athale tends to outwit himself with that drawn-out finale. It’s one thing to find a clever solution to the picture puzzle you’ve concocted. It’s quite another to try and rub our noses in it.
Cast: Luke Treadaway, Vanessa Kirby, Timothy Spall, Iwan Rheon, Neil Maskell
Written and directed by Rowan Athale. An Oscilloscope Labs release.
Running time: 1:49
MPAA rating: unrated, violence, profanity, drug culture context