Some young directors try to impress by throwing everything they've got into their first feature film, others take a different road by leaving out as much as possible. Blakeson belongs to the latter category and does a mighty fine job at that. Alice Creed turns out to be a perfect example of less is more, surely one of the toughest tricks to accomplish in cinema. Just beware for some mild spoilers near the end of the review.
Blakeson's film will no doubt be compared to Shallow Grave, Danny Boyle's first. There are quite a few resemblances, from the British overtones and dark humor to the minimal cast and setting. The comparison is absolutely justified, at the same time the 15-year gap between these two films give Alice Creed it's own particular swing. If you leave out the British influences then the Wachowski's first film Bound is another perfect reference to mention here. Guess that takes care of the name dropping then.
The whole film is centered around one single kidnapping, singling out one location and three characters, getting rid of all other excessive baggage. Only at the very end does Blakeson allow his characters to venture outside their designated prison. The setup is simple, with two guys (one pro, one novice) kidnapping a rich girl for a greedy ransom. The intro shows the preparation of the kidnapping, already hinting at the meticulous planning or the two criminals. From there on, the narrative starts and we're witness to the plan unfolding itself.
Once the girl arrives though, the novice kidnapper slowly starts to break down, jeopardizing the whole plan. Pretty typical fare up until this point, but the film packs a few neat twists that help to keep the tension flowing for a good 90 minutes. The biggest one delivered around the halfway point of the film, which turned out to be a real surprise as I hadn't even suspected it coming.
Most of this being a small, single-room film, Blakeson does a good job of keeping his film visually interesting. There's nothing ground-breaking here, but through some smart use of sets, colors and camera angles he remains a level of variety needed to keep his audience visually entertained. Once the film travels outside the main room things get a little flakier but that's just a small part of the film.
The soundtrack is deceptively simple but very effective (much like the rest in the film). It's electronic influences are clear but never really intrude. The soundtrack remains largely in the background, building up tension wherever needed and doing some superb behind the scenes work. I could've been a bit bolder I guess, but that's just personal preference.
One of the key elements of this film is the acting. With only three actors carrying the film there can't be any weak elements. Luckily Blakeson gathered himself a strong cast with stellar performances from all three. Eddie Marsan has a great face for his role (and knows how to keep his cool), Compston does a great job being a nervous wreck and Arterton proves she's worth more than simple female blockbuster filler.
The only thing bothering me about the film is the final chapter. It's not as tight as the first hour and sees our kidnappers lose their icy calm, one of the ubercliches of cinema I'd love to see avoided, if only just once. I understand this is probably Hollywood Scripting 101 (how to build tension, conflict and how to keep your audience engaged), but it's just not always the best possible solution.
Which adds to my disappointment is the fact that the film has little to none likable characters. The kidnapped girl is far from innocent and does little to make the audience cheer for her. My sympathy lay with the kidnappers and it would've been great to see them invincible, carrying out their kidnapping as planned and finish off the movie accordingly.
That said, the final act is still pretty tense and enjoyable and does little to eclipse the first hour. The film's finer points still stand strong when the end credits roll over the screen, making Blakeson a director to watch out for in the future. The ease with which he convinces is remarkable, especially considering how little he needs to create a captivating, good-looking and well-acted film. Recommended.